DNA Explainer: What has irked a debate around Indian food that started as tasteless humour

A comment that was not made in good taste by Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten has sparked controversy on social media, something uncalled for. In an article that seemed very biased and portraying more of white supremacy, Weingarten recently described Indian food as ‘based entirely on one spice’. 

The humour columnist in his write up titled, ‘You can’t make me eat these foods’, wrote about foods he refuses to eat and why. In this piece of tasteless humour, he chose to target Indian food and that too with very little investment in the research work.

In the article originally published on August 19, he writes, “The Indian subcontinent has vastly enriched the world, giving us chess, buttons, the mathematical concept of zero, shampoo, modern-day nonviolent political resistance, Chutes and Ladders, the Fibonacci sequence, rock candy, cataract surgery, cashmere, USB ports … and the only ethnic cuisine in the world insanely based entirely on one spice.”

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist’s piece soon drew flak on social media with many calling him out for being ‘racist’ and condescending. ‘Based entirely on one spice’, sounds a little weird for a country that was ruled for its spices and gave the world some of the great flavours enriching cuisines.

What in the white nonsense is this? pic.twitter.com/ciPed2v5EK

— Padma Lakshmi (@PadmaLakshmi) August 23, 2021

Reactions on Weingarten column

Top Chef judge, renowned model and author of ‘The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs’, Padma Lakshmi, did not hold back her thoughts. She was quick to respond saying the columnist ‘clearly’ needed education on spices, flavour, and taste. 

Lakshmi wrote, “What in the white nonsense is this?” The 50-year-old further questioned the Washington Post and asked, “Is this really the type of coloniser ‘hot take’ the Washington Post wants to publish in 2021- sardonically characterising curry as ‘one spice’ and that all of India’s cuisine is based on it?”

Author Shireen Ahmed expressed disappointment over him getting space to ‘boldly spew your racism’ which she describes as ‘deplorable’. Meena Harris and Mindy Kaling also expressed their displeasure. Meena Harris wrote, “Even Columbus knew it was more than one spice.”

American actress, comedian and screenwriter Mindy Kaling tweeted, “You don’t like a cuisine? Fine. But it’s so weird to feel defiantly proud of not liking a cuisine. You can quietly not like something too.”

From start to finish plus the illo, the column was about what a whining infantile ignorant d—head I am. I should have named a single Indian dish, not the whole cuisine, & I do see how that broad-brush was insulting. Apologies.(Also, yes, curries are spice blends, not spices.)

— Gene Weingarten (@geneweingarten) August 23, 2021

What Weingarten said after backslash

Even though Weingarten issued an apology saying how he realises it was ‘insulting’, it is being seen as ‘half-hearted’.

Washington Post has issued a correction. The column now states, “A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Indian cuisine is based on one spice, curry and that Indian food is made up only of curries, types of stew. In fact, India’s vastly diverse cuisines use many spice blends and include many other types of dishes. The article has been corrected.”

“Took a lot of blowback for my dislike of Indian food in today’s column so tonight I went to Rasika, DC’s best Indian restaurant. Food was beautifully prepared yet still swimming with the herbs and spices I most despise. I take nothing back,” he said on Twitter on August 23.

I think people often pretend to like non-American cuisines as a way of showing sophistication. I’m honest enough to say that my mostly Irish taste buds can’t handle whatever it is that is called “Indian” in the US and UK. You may all continue with your outrage now. /3x

— Tom Nichols (@RadioFreeTom) November 24, 2019

US academic called Indian food ‘terrible’

Well, this is not exactly the first time that someone has made distasteful comments on Indian food. Just two years back, during the pre-COVID times, a tweet from a US academic calling Indian food &39;terrible&39; sparked a hot debate about cultural intolerance and racism in international cuisine.

“Indian food is terrible and we pretend it isn’t,” said international affairs professor Tom Nichols. Critics called his comment a tasteless generalisation.

“Do you not have taste buds?” celebrity chef Padma Lakshmi had asked reacting to the comment.

The present US Vice President Kamala Harris, whose mother’s family hails from south India, shared a teaser for a cooking video with comedian Mindy Kaling using the hashtag #MyFavoriteIndianFood.

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