Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Orwell’s Cookbook

'Politically correct' recipes?! Is there no end to the insanity? If you had told me 15 years ago what our society would be like today, I would have called the men in the white coats to come and take you away.

From The American Conservative

By Rod Dreher

This is how insane leftist culture is becoming in the US: Bon Appetit magazine and the recipe website Epicurious, which share the same parent company, are editing recipes in their archives to make them politically correct.

Politically correct recipes. You read that right. HuffPost wrote about the Archive Repair Project. Excerpts:

The bulk of Epicurious site traffic goes to the archive, mostly recipes but also articles and other editorial work, Tamarkin and Chopra said.

“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.”

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.”

“Painful”? This guy David Tamarkin finds the word “exotic” when used in a recipe to be hurtful? If I were so thin-skinned, I would be embarrassed to tell people about it. This is total neuroticism, but its progressive, so it’s ballyhooed.

What they’re doing is making the job of historians far more difficult. It is actually interesting to observe social history through the evolution of language used to write about food. It may be out of date to refer to this or that food as “exotic,” but the fact that what was exotic to the American palate in 1975 no longer is in 2021 tells a really interesting story. In my rural hometown, there’s a Chinese restaurant, a Mexican restaurant, and a Middle Eastern restaurant. When I was a kid, we had none of those things. I remember when the first pizzas were available in town, in the early 1970s. Pizza was exotic for us! This stupid project to edit out recipes and food stories to remove any words that cause thin-skinned 2021 progressives offense is a violation of the historical record. Do I even need to point out that this kind of thing — editing journalistic archives to reflect contemporary political policies — was Winston Smith’s job in Nineteen Eighty-Four?

More from the HuffPost story:

Since July, when Tamarkin outlined the project on Epicurious, he and his staff have fixed about 200 recipes and other work. Some repairs are more complicated than removing a single word, such as an entire story about the “ethnic” aisle at the grocery store.

“We have published recipes with headnotes that fail to properly credit the inspirations for the dish, or degrade the cuisine the dish belongs to. We have purported to make a recipe `better’ by making it faster, or swapping in ingredients that were assumed to be more familiar to American palates, or easier to find. We have inferred (and in some cases outright labeled) ingredients and techniques to be ‘surprising’ or `weird.’ And we have published terminology that was widely accepted in food writing at the time, and that we now recognize has always been racist,” Tamarkin wrote.

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.

Read it all, every insane word.

Here is the original piece that David Tamarkin wrote explaining to Epicurious readers what they were going to do and why they were going to do it. Excerpts:

To actually repair content that contains the racist language described above, we’re making edits. For example, when we come across a recipe with a reductive, racist title (i.e. Asian Noodle Salad), we’re looking closely at the recipe and its headnote and adding more specific and accurate language. That title may simply reflect the recipe’s ingredients (Cold Rice Noodle Salad), or, if we see that the recipe is actually a well-established dish, we will assign it its proper name. (Whenever possible, we are in communication with the recipe developer about their inspirations and the context for the recipe.)

Why the heck is that racist? If I were publishing a recipe site in southeast Asia, and I called a Waldorf salad “American salad,” so what? I applaud wanting to give dishes their proper names, but honestly, to think it’s racist to call a noodle salad of Asian origin “Asian noodle salad” is real princess-and-the-pea stuff. More Tamarkin:

It’s depressing, disheartening, and discouraging—for the Epi staff, but especially for our readers—that problematic recipes and stories are so easy to find on our site.

Really? The Epi staff is so fragile that they can’t handle something called “Asian Noodle Salad” without becoming depressed? Do they really think that readers give a rat’s ass?

Racist recipes. Let me remind you that this is a sign of a totalitarian mentality. A totalitarian society is one in which nearly every aspect of life is politicized. When a radical political consciousness causes the custodians of recipes to want to rewrite the historical record to reflect a contemporary line in cultural politics, you should know that we are living within a form of totalitarianism. And, having established that language used in past recipes can be so intolerable as to require erasure from the historical record, this project will be never-ending. The archives must be constantly assessed to keep them politically correct. I guess it’s make-work for Grievance Studies graduates, but are there really no people within Condé Nast capable of recognizing how crazy this is? Are there no cultural historians who can speak sense to these censors, and tell them that what they are doing is wrong, simply from the point of view of historical preservation?

It’s one thing to promulgate an editorial policy that uses different language in recipes going forward. But going back into the past and changing language in something as trivial as recipes, because it’s “painful” to encounter certain words there — that really does require a totalitarian mindset.

Look at how Bon Appetit re-edited a feature on how to make hamentaschen, the cookies from Jewish cuisine:

The article’s original headline “How to Make Actually Good Hamantaschen” was changed to “5 Steps to Really Good Hamantaschen.” Bon Appetit removed the sub-heading in which the article’s non-Jewish writer said in “full disclosure” that because she attended “roughly three Bar or Bat Mitzvahs a weekend during 1992” and cooks professionally, she thought she could “at least weigh in on the Jewish cookie department.”

Among other things changed in the article’s content was the description of the Jewish holiday of Purim. Writer Dawn Perry, who is also Bon Appetit‘s digital food editor, originally said “The story of Purim involves a bad guy, Haman, a nice Jewish lady, Esther, and her ultimate victory over his plot to destroy the Jewish people.”

Bon Appetit also deleted six sentences about Perry’s observation that Jews and non-Jews alike on the BA staff “could only call up childhood memories of dry and sandy hamantaschen that left your mouth coated with a weird film,” and her desire to “convert the haters … To create a hamantaschen that we could all enjoy, regardless of religious upbringing or tainted Hebrew School memories.”

I guess that counts as a “flippant” attitude about Jewish cookies. But you know, the hamentaschen I’ve had really are dry and sandy and not very good. If Jews and non-Jews don’t generally enjoy hamentaschen, are their tastes anti-Semitic? Seems that Bon Appetit thinks so.

Could there be a more Orwellian name for this than “Archive Repair Project”? The idea that things created in the past, and stored in an archive, are broken because they don’t match the cultural and political standards of Manhattanites in 2021, and therefore the past needs to be fixed — yeah, that’s totalitarian.

Take the novelist and essayist Walter Kirn seriously here.

I have a lot of Kindle books. I buy e-books when I’m reading them as research for my own books, because Kindle makes it easy to highlight passages and send them to yourself electronically. But those e-books that I want to keep in my library I supplement with a paper version, because Amazon retains the right to go into the text and alter anything in the electronic version. It is not unthinkable that we will one day see something like a “Library Repair Project” to retroactively censor “problematic” books, to avoid causing pain. Therapeutic totalitarianism is our future. Along these lines, I’m happy when you buy Live Not By Lies in any form. But I recommend hardcover, which can’t be retroactively censored. Sure, a Library Repair Project would require abrogating copyright laws, but how can we allow something like copyright laws keep us from eliminating problematic texts that cause so much pain to institutional elites?

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