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Desis, we do not need to make ourselves more palatable

Anuja Bhatt/@bhattcheeks_

Every so often, a gora emerges from the shadows with a tawdry, pseudo-intellectual op-ed carrying racist overtones, and gets royally flamed on Twitter.

This time, it’s Gene Weingarten with his ‘comedic’ column titled You can’t make me eat these foods, published in the Washington Post. 

In this perplexingly unfunny article, Gene decries a host of foods that he dislikes, including ‘Indian food’ as a whole. The point of contention here isn’t the public display of his abysmal palate, (to each their own, I guess), but his blatant ignorance in doing so. 

His faux pas, in this case, is twofold. 

On the one hand, he lazily clubs together an entire subcontinent’s worth of diverse cuisines under the dreaded ‘curry’ umbrella. And two, he declares Indian food as “the only ethnic cuisine in the world insanely based on one spice”. 

I don’t think I need to point out how obtuse either of those claims is,  in addition to being objectively false.

It is truly baffling to me how a two-time Pulitzer prize winner arrived at this bizarre conclusion, when all it takes is a quick Google search (or functioning taste buds) to prove otherwise. 

Weingarten’s article wasn’t just unfunny; it was misinformed, careless writing, and certainly in poor taste (pun intended). 

However, as much as I’d like to, I’m not here to rip into the article itself. Padma Lakshmi does a wonderful job of critiquing the piece, and everything that’s wrong with it. 

Her initial tweet about the article was among a storm of responses across Brown Twitter. From Meena Harris to Mindy Kaling, desis banded together online to marvel at Weingarten’s audacity. 

Many responses to the piece were attempting to change Weingarten’s mind by suggesting Indian food that he may enjoy.

His snarky (and now, deleted) retort mentioned that the backlash pushed him to go to the best Indian restaurant in town, where he tried food “swimming with the herbs and spices he most despises.” 

As I unwittingly slipped down the Gene Weingarten rabbit-hole on Twitter, the entire saga began feeling all too familiar. The nagging sense of deja-vu somehow prompted me to Google the words ‘white-man-hates-Indian-food-Twitter,’ digging up something eerily similar.

In 2019, a white man named Tom Nichols tweeted - “Indian food is terrible and we pretend it isn’t.” 

He, too, was the talk of Brown Twitter for a while. 

Much like Gene, he refused to budge, and stood firmly by his dislike for Indian food. After this fiasco, Nichols scored an (extremely unnecessary) op-ed in USA Today. Gene also saw a drastic increase in following on Twitter after his controversial publication.

So, what were all the angry Tweets achieving?

All the backlash has only served to strengthen Weingarten’s platform while he continues to do his thing, all the while stubbornly averse to the wonders of Indian cuisine. 

Many respondents were upset that Gene just straight up disliked Indian food. But I’m going to be slightly messy for a second here, and say, he doesn’t have to.

Was he obnoxious about it? Yes. 

Was the entire article just… unnecessary? Also, yes.

But, does he have to enjoy Indian food? Nope.

While it has been wonderful to watch Indian food merge into the Western mainstream, there will always, always be people who will never truly understand and accept Indian culture. 

Moreover, white acceptance is not the cultural assertion that we think it is. We don’t need to contort ourselves, our culture or our food to be more palatable to white people.

It is vital to acknowledge that we were never made for Western consumption. 

Our culture and our identities can exist well beyond the realm of white acceptance, and that is okay. 

Your Indian-ness does not hinge on Western appeal.

Maybe once we collectively learn this lesson, we’ll stop doing ourselves the injustice of debating with fools who’ve never acquainted themselves with a spice rack, and better yet, focus on the people in our culture who are bringing Indian food to the forefront.

Who are your favourite Indian cooks or food writers? Share them with us on socials, so we can spare our attention from white men with bad taste.


About the author: Anuja is an international student at the University of British Columbia, with a concentration in mental health and interpersonal development. When she isn’t having an existential crisis, you may find her dancing, taking pictures of her cat or yelling at unclejis. When she is having an existential crisis, you’ll probably find her in a window seat on the 99, listening to Mohammed Rafi and pretending she’s in a movie.

5X Press is a forum for opinions, conversations, & experiences, powered by South Asian youth. The views expressed here are not representative of those of 5X Festival.

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