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Epicurious is rewriting its recipe archives to ensure that none of the listed ingredients or dish descriptions cause Harm. Someone might encounter a word from a 1973 recipe that grates against their sensibilities, minces their nerves, adds a soupçon of rage, and they would be shook, and possibly could not even.
Since July, the small staff at Epicurious, a resource site for home cooks, has been scouring 55 years’ worth of recipes from a variety of Conde Nast magazines in search of objectionable titles, ingredient lists and stories told through a white American lens.
Does “objectionable” refer to everything? Titles, lists, and stories? If so, is the fact that a story was told through a “white American lens” sufficient to make it objectionable?
“It came after Black Lives Matter, after a lot of consciousness-raising among the editors and staff,” said David Tamarkin, the white digital director for Epicurious.
Aren’t you glad that everyone’s race is identified in stories these days? It tells you how you should interpret what the person says, thinks, and does.
“It came out of conversations that we had about how we can do better, where are we failing and where have our predecessors failed?”
Called the Archive Repair Project,
Ugh. What is it with the Left and Newspeak? The Archives, which faithfully and truthfully reflected the era, are broken, because they do not reflect this era. And thus they must be repaired.
“Being such an old site, we’re full of a lot of ideas about American cooking that really go through a white lens,” Tamarkin said. “We know that American cooking is Mexican American cooking and Indian American cooking and Nigerian American cooking, that that’s the kind of cooking that’s really happening in this country every day.”
That’s quite true. The question is whether everyone is staying in their lane, and not appropriating cultures outside of their own.
One of the first issues “repaired,” he said, was use of the word “exotic.”
“I can’t think of any situation where that word would be appropriate, and yet it’s all over the site,” Tamarkin said. “That’s painful for me and I’m sure others.”
The definition of “exotic”: “originating in or characteristic of a distant foreign country.” So an American recipe in 1962 describing food from a distant foreign country as “exotic” would not be inaccurate, would it? Ah, but if there were people in America at the time making the dish, then the use of the word would smite them with the great wide Otherizing Beam, and thus someone in 2021 would conclude that Spanish or Korean people were not seen as wholly American in 1962.
Is it possible that the mainly-WASPy mainstream did not see them as wholly American in 1962? Aren’t we told that they weren’t? If so, perhaps leaving the word “exotic” in place with a note about the recipe’s publication date respects an artifact of the past and the discerning intellect of the present-day reader, which can encounter elements of the past without feeling their marrow turn to ice.
While I am not an epicurean, I have some experience with old cookbooks. Let’s look at a cookbook from the era.
Now we get to the internecine struggles.
He noted: “Certainly there will be times when our edits do not go far enough; some of our repairs will need repairs.”
For Bon Appetit, that’s exactly what happened when an outcry among readers led it to make multiple changes including the headnote and references to Haiti on a pumpkin soup recipe put forth by Chef Marcus Samuelsson, a guest editor. The magazine referred to it as soup joumou, a beloved Haitian staple that symbolizes the country’s bloody liberation from its French colonizers.
It was not soup joumou, but was intended by Samuelsson as an homage. The magazine adapted an entry from one of his cookbooks, “The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food.” Both Bon Appetit and Samuelsson, who is Black, apologized after calls of erasure and cultural appropriation.
The soup was not joumou, but was intended as an homage. To Haitian cooking. By a Black man.
I found it; the recipe now has an editor’s apology. We live in an era where recipes are prefaced by apologies.
Some of the comments made on the pre-apology page:
This is a disgrace! Not an accurate representation of our culture and is disrespectful. This recipe is white-washed and should be removed!
This is not a Haitian Soupe Joumou. Removed it immediately. The recipe are all wrong. Before you post anything about Haitian food, please do your research and talk to a real Haitian person.
Another comment links to a YouTube video where the chef who made the recipe learns about the tradition and preparation from a Real Haitian Person. Doesn’t matter.
I think it’s entirely correct to say “I made changes to the recipe that alter the essence of the dish and hence it should not be called by its original name.” If your “take” on pizza is a bowl of tomato soup with croutons, best not to call it pizza. But this is not, as one comment says, erasure. NO ACTUAL SOUP, PERSONS, OR SOUP-CONSUMING PERSONS VANISHED FROM THE EARTH.
The Bon Appetit story is actually much larger, and while I won’t go into it here, let’s just say the magazine was ROCKED by allegations last year, and people were unhappy, an editor who did brown-face at a party was fired, and everyone pledged to Do Better. The Archive Repair is part of that. Well. There’s a hugely popular podcast called “Reply All,” which covered internet culture and quirky things. In one series they went to India to confront phone scammers; in another, which might be the apogee of the podcast art, they tried to figure out whether this guy who swore he knew a song no one else remembered was nuts, or right. (Trust me: it’s just fantastic.)
Recently Reply All started a four-part series about the Bon Appetit controversy, and many listeners – who are almost universally ardent – found it off-putting, or wished that a show about the internet would be, you know, more about that. It seemed as if the show, (part of the Gimlet network, hosted by Spotify, so a big deal) had decided that it needed to be more Socially Conscious. Okay hey great but you know there’s not exactly a shortage of that, I loved the days when you did a podcast every week about how your boss doesn’t get Twitter memes. One of the hosts waded into the show’s subreddit, and did some chiding. It did not go well.
Turns out there was a unionization battle, a “clubhouse” attitude from the podcast hosts who didn’t want to share (and I think they’re perfectly entitled to do what they want), feelings of erasure and marginalization, and so on.
A never-ending spiral of accusations, victimization, virtue attained by demolition, virtue removed by those who find in you the flaws you found in others. It’s exhausting. It’s as if they’ve summed a vision of the future where two secret policeman are on opposite sides of the door, demanding the other open up and submit to arrest.Published in