Opinion: The Audacity of Culinary Caucacity

Gene Weingarten’s Washington Post article isn’t the first time mainstream media has tried to pass off racist commentary as satire, humor, or harmless.

Madhushree Ghosh

August 27, 2021

Opinion: The Audacity of Culinary Caucacity
Serving of curry (Pushpak Dsilva/Unsplash)

Earlier this week, the Washington Post published an article by satirist Gene Weingarten, “You can’t make me eat these foods,” in which he details his hatred of Indian food, claiming that the entire cuisine relies solely on one spice: curry powder. Part of me wanted to ignore it. “Did he think this is funny?” I thought to myself. “What am I missing?” (The article has since been updated with a laughable correction — highlighting that India has many regional spice blends and mixes. It did not address the racist microaggression.) 

But, this wasn’t the first time that a major media outlet published such drivel as satire or humor and expected people of color to accept the treatment.

Last year, in May 2020, Alison Roman, a cookbook author and New York Times columnist, trashed two women, both of Asian descent, for selling their lifestyle brands while plugging her own. (Though the Times asked her to leave, Roman is already back in the business with her own YouTube cooking channel.) In June 2020, Adam Rapaport, editor-in-chief of Bon Appetit, resigned over allegations of bias, promoting a discriminatory work culture, and accusations of racism in reaction to a picture of him wearing brownface at Halloween. Several contributors, including Priya Krishna and Sohla El-Waylly, said they would stop appearing in Bon Appetit videos. 

Culinary appropriation has been part of our world, our Brown world, for so long that it’s become part of life. Mainstream media considers this ‘jk’ type of racist humor acceptable. It’s supposed to be funny, please laugh. 

It’s not that we didn’t know that Apu in The Simpsons was a racist stereotype, but we went along with it because this was the only Indian representation we had in American pop culture for over 20 years. Comedian Hari Kondabolu addressed the full gravity of the issue in his scathing documentary, The Problem with Apu (2017), examining how the show consistently played off cultural tropes as humor and how actor Hank Azaria created Apu’s accent on a whim, because he thought it was funny. In response to the controversy, The Simpsons creators chose to silence Apu for at least two years — rather than address the core issues. Azaria initially resisted the criticism, before stepping down from the role in 2020. Creators announced “ambitious” plans for Apu in 2021, but have yet to unveil the details.