New Delhi: Indians across the world, from celebrity Padma Lakshmi to author Salman Rushdie, were not amused when Gene Weingarten, a food columnist with the Washington Post, reduced India’s culinary spread to just ‘curry’.
In a column listing out foods he doesn’t approve of, Weingarten had criticised Indian food for being “the only ethnic cuisine in the world insanely based entirely on one spice”. The Washington Post has since issued a correction, noting that “India’s vastly diverse cuisines use many spice blends and include many other types of dishes”.
However, the column — titled ‘Gene Weingarten: You can’t make me eat these foods’ and first published on 19 August — has drawn criticism for being ‘ignorant’ and even ‘racist’ for confusing curry with spices.
Rushdie, the author of ‘The Satanic Verses’, hit out at Weingarten stating that what the columnist didn’t know about Indian food “would fill an encyclopedia”.
I just heard about @geneweingarten for the first time in my life. What he doesn’t know about indian food would fill an encyclopedia. I plan never to hear about him again.
— Salman Rushdie (@SalmanRushdie) August 24, 2021
Weingarten, a regular Washington Post columnist, took to Twitter Tuesday to apologise.
“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.)
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
His apology, though, came after he initially defended his column and said that he had eaten at the best Indian restaurant in Washington DC which is “still swimming with the herbs & spices I most despise. I take nothing back”. The tweet has since been deleted.
‘Colonizer hot take’
Among the volley of criticism was Top Chef judge Padma Lakshmi’s, also the author of ‘Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs’, who described Weingarten’s column as a “colonizer ‘hot take'”:
Is this really the type of colonizer 'hot take' the @washingtonpost wants to publish in 2021- sardonically characterizing curry as "one spice" and that all of India's cuisine is based on it? pic.twitter.com/suneMRD8vs
— Padma Lakshmi (@PadmaLakshmi) August 23, 2021
Washington DC-based advocate Rabia O’ Chaudry talked about how Indians put eight different spices even in an omelet, while New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said Indian food was a symphony of spices and flavours. Murphy also invited Weingarten to the state, which is home to a large Indian-origin community.
— rabia O'chaudry (@rabiasquared) August 23, 2021
Indian food is wonderfully, deliciously unique. A symphony of spices and flavor as diverse as the country itself. And if you want to taste the best Indian food in the United States – come to New Jersey. https://t.co/A1NdStwZna
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) August 24, 2021
American journalist Anand Giridharadas questioned the kind of research Weingarten does for his articles, and even posted a recipe for Chettinad Chicken curry.
Here’s just one example of a dish I love. pic.twitter.com/Ft2w5IO3IG
— Anand Giridharadas @ The.Ink (@AnandWrites) August 23, 2021
Some posted pictures from their kitchen, showing a wide array of spices to drive home the point.
Hey @geneweingarten I threw together some spices & powders from my pantry with their Hindi names for your quick referral. I regret to inform you that this is just a partial repertoire. This is a good start. But hey! It is never too late to start learning about #indianspices. pic.twitter.com/NnEhXtXx77
— Vikas Navratna (@vikasnavaratna) August 24, 2021
This is one portion of my spice rack. And I cook cuisines of just 2 Indian states. "One spice"? 🙄 pic.twitter.com/e2r2abfAKX
— TheBrook (@Southern_Brook) August 23, 2021
— Rehmatullah Sheikh (@Sheikh_Rehmat) August 23, 2021
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)