Washington Post columnist faces the internet's fury after claiming Indian food is 'made up of only one spice'

Updated 27 Aug, 2021 09:59am

Images Staff

The writer's article bashed South Asian cuisine and claimed it's all just basically curry.

It's 2021 yet there are still people out there making racist remarks against South Asians. Case in point — Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten whose recent column in the publication claimed Indian cuisine is based "entirely on one spice".

Weingarten's column titled You Can't Make Me Eat These Foods is the writer's holier than thou take on a list of food items that he really does not like, despite his "broadly eclectic tastes". What would have been just another run-of-the-mill rant against various food items suddenly turned controversial when Weingarten asserted that Indian food is made up of only one spice and that spice in question is curry.

Understandably, Weingarten's ignorance was the spark that ignited the fury of Desi netizens worldwide. Indian-American author Padma Lakshmi couldn't hold back her anger as well. She took to Twitter to share a screenshot of the article alongside the caption, "What in the white nonsense is this?"

"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?" Lakshmi wrote.

Lakshmi was joined by Indian-American screenwriter and actor Mindy Kaling in calling out Weingarten's casual remarks. "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," she wrote on Twitter.

Other netizens also highlighted the explicit racist tones within the column. "A Washington Post writer denounced Indian food as 'the only ethnic cuisine in the world insanely based entirely on one spice'," read a tweet. "So there’s only one type of Indian food, based on one spice? How’s that any less racist than saying that members of a certain ethnic group 'all look alike'?"

One Twitter user wondered how the column was allowed to be published by the Washington Post in the first place. "Yes, that take on Indian food was horrible, ignorant, flat writing, AND racist—but here’s the thing: several people at The Washington Post thought it was fine to print. It went all the way up the ladder of editors to publication. Giant yikes to all who let that get published," a user wrote on Twitter.

The column received such strong backlash that the Washington Post hastily corrected it, saying the 'article incorrectly stated that Indian cuisine is based on one spice, curry'. The writer himself issued an apology to all the aggrieved Desi folks on the internet.

Despite the correction and apology though, the article still remains grossly reductionist towards Indian cuisine, or to use the more politically correct term, South Asian cuisine. Go through the column yourself and you'll see Weingarten brush aside a diverse range of cuisines enjoyed by millions of people. Perhaps the writer is the symbolic manifestation of the foreign man who fails to understand that Indian food is in fact not just Indian but also Pakistani, Tamil, Nepalese or Bengali. To reduce these diverse regional cuisines to the easy and marketable label of 'Indian food' grossly undercuts the rich history and traditions of these delicacies.

The article, despite the correction, still does a great job at highlighting the age old (rather racist) misconception — that all South Asian cuisine is mere curry. "The Indian subcontinent has vastly enriched the world," the author wrote. "[G]iving 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 curry. If you like Indian curries, yay, you like one of India’s most popular class of dishes!"

If Weingarten had based his dislike of 'Indian food' on a few more dishes other than curry, we would have given a bit more leeway in understanding his obliviousness or dislike. It is a bit hard to do that though, given that the food connoisseur has obviously not indulged his taste buds with mutton biryani, bihari kebab, butter chicken or the thousands of other dishes that make up South Asian cuisine.

Many netizens highlighted the diversity of South Asian cuisines and strongly criticised the columnist's remarks in the way Desis know best — witty sarcasm. "I pride myself on my Pakistani cooking. I also love South Indian, and fusion dishes. That you got paid to write this tripe, and boldly spew your racism is deplorable. May your rice be clumpy, roti dry, your chilies unforgivable, your chai cold, and your papadams soft," a user wrote on Twitter. The ultimate roast, in our opinion.

"Trying to find that one spice that Indian food is based on," another user sarcastically tweeted.

Indians and Pakistanis have many political differences but please don't even come after our food, wrote another Twitter user. "The golden lattes and purified butter that's so en vogue is ours. Maybe that's where we are going wrong! We should call it cultural appropriation and name them haldi doodh and ghee."

Others criticised the columnist's writing on a more severe note. "Honestly, you're demonstrating more conclusively that no one should ever trust your opinions on food, and the Post's editors are fools to pay you for that opinion. How many Indian, Pakistani, Indonesian, Bengali, Tamil, Nepalese, and other restaurants have you shafted?" a user tweeted.

Hell hath no fury like a Desi scorned, and us Desis definitely take offence when you come after our beloved foods. Hopefully the Weingartens of the world will learn a thing or two from this incident and show more consideration towards all diverse cuisines, even if these foods aren't exactly what they are familiar or comfortable with.