The Digest

Cookbook Diversity & Other News

7th April 2018

Words: James Hansen

In this week’s round-up of the best online food media: Puerto Rico’s bars, imitation fast food in Iran and a MasterChef mess-up

Alicia Kennedy writes from the bartops of Puerto Rico for Hazlitt. “Bars are little pockets of humanity, where we go to relax and shoot the shit. In bars, we meet friends and strangers. We tell our life stories, over and over. Like trees and vacancies and graffiti artists, they tell the truth of how it’s all going.” The truth at hand is Puerto Rico’s recovery after Hurricane Maria, and how the bars and the stories Kennedy remembers from her first visits flex and bend to their environment: “If the trees are still bent, the graffiti gets angrier, and some buildings are left vacant, the bars will be there to welcome you with open arms.”

At Eater, Julia Turshen has presented a plan for addressing the racial disparity in food media, and it starts with cookbooks. “Cookbooks are where writers get to share not only our recipes, but the stories behind them and, with those stories, ourselves.” As Turshen makes clear, when those stories and selves don’t represent, or never represent, the stories and selves of their readers, things break down. The same occurs for authors trying to tell their stories. As cookbook author Samin Nosrat tells Turshen: “[The price of this constant dance] often comes at the cost of repressing or suppressing my own identity.” If cookbooks are portals to experience, more diverse portals will make for more diverse experience. Paired with Turshen’s newly created database, Equity At The Table, the groundwork is there to move in the right direction.

Sarra Sedghi reports on Mash Donalds, Sheak Shack and Pizza Hat for Atlas Obscura. After 1979, when religious clerics took control, American fast food franchises were deemed contraband. They’re still against the law today, but Iranian entrepreneurs have gotten around prohibition with a slew of wildly popular, wildly clever imitation franchises. “The dysfunctional Iranian-American relationship makes enforcing intellectual property in Iran unfulfilling for fast food chains”, and so the franchises continue to thrive as the owners “play a balancing act: imitating Western chains enough to draw Iranians who want to try those brands, but not so closely that the government accuses them of corrupting and Westernizing the country.”

For Buzzfeed, Megha Rajagopalan breaks down a serious gaffe from MasterChef UK. Contestant Zaleha Kadir Olpin cooked nasi lemak alongside chicken rendang, and was eliminated largely because judge and food generaliser Gregg Wallace complained that the chicken skin was not crispy. Rendang, being a slow-cooked curry, will never have crispy skin, and so social media responded to his “whitemansplaining” of a Malay national dish. Whether colonial memes or Malaysia’s prime minister weighing in, the reaction was swift and severe: don’t make ill-judged comments about a national cuisine not your own.

Gray Chapman dissects the bro side of craft beer for PUNCH. Moving on from the quaint sexism of 1950s-80s beer advertising, Chapman focuses on “bitch beer”: a term for the kind of beers women are expected to drink – but “shouldn’t” – as opposed to the kind of beers women are not expected to drink – but “should” – if they are to conform with the prevailing crafty attitudes. “In other words, guys can line up out the door for a craft brewery’s hot-pink raspberry sour release, and everyone chalks it up to being open-minded. Women aren’t afforded that same flexibility.” Chapman’s piece opens out into a familiar history for the many, many products that are now “craft”: women were historically custodians of brewing, until capitalism came calling. There’s hope, however, that things are changing: “Even though the phenomenon of unsolicited male beer commentary was pretty universal among the women I spoke with, some of them, like [Felicia] d’Ambrosio, agree that the culture is changing for the better. ‘I think the fact that we’re having this conversation is really important,’ she says, ‘because 12 years ago, we weren’t.’”

Illustration by Ping Zhu for Eater

Posted 7th April 2018

In The Digest


Words: James Hansen

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