American author and academician Tom Nichols recently triggered a massive debate on Twitter when he tweeted, “Indian food is terrible and we pretend it isn’t”. He was responding to a tweet asking for “controversial food opinions”. Nichols’s tweet led to outrage and discussions on food, racism and immigrant experiences.
ThePrint asks: Why are we threatened by a foreigner’s opinion of our food?
From Britain’s chicken tikka masala to America’s chai teas, Indian food clearly doesn’t travel well
A foreigner says Indian food is terrible and social media goes into a paroxysm of rage, forgetting two things. First, many of the staples of Indian food are not Indian at all — potatoes came into the country in the late 18th century and chillies probably came via Mexico with Vasco da Gama. Second, with the professor confessing that he has eaten Indian food only in the US and the UK, it can safely be said that he has eaten only a fake version of Indian food.
From Britain’s chicken tikka masala, which has nothing to do with either tikka or masala, to America’s chai teas, Indian food clearly doesn’t travel well. In its regional diversity, it is baffling and in its variety of tastes, it is truly dazzling. But then, Indians have always had a problem with foreigners having an unfavourable opinion about anything to do with them.
Anyone remember Katharine Mayo’s 1927 book ‘Mother India’ and Mahatma Gandhi’s comment that it was a drain inspector’s report? Mayo wrote about Hinduism, but everything else Indian is a touchy topic too.
Tom Nichols should be happy — he joins a long and illustrious list of the famous infamous, from early V.S. Naipaul who saw India as a wounded civilisation to Maria Sharapova who made the cardinal error of asking who Sachin Tendulkar is.
Time to move on and focus on more important issues like, is everyone getting enough food in the first place?
Senior web editor, ThePrint
It has been seven decades since the British quit India, and we’re still not over White people. It’s a weird relationship where we still care about what they think. Which is why when an American man criticises our food, we’re affected by it. Sure, we troll him and denounce him on Twitter and make clever jokes. We even talk about how they steal and appropriate the very same food they call bad. But that just shows we care. And that’s only because it’s a White person speaking. We still crave their validation, their good opinion, even though we know they’re not better than us.
It’s the same reason we, as a country of brown people, are obsessed with white skin. We still put immense importance on knowing and learning English, and our lifestyle and cultural trends are still dictated by them. There are other contributing factors of course, but it all goes to show that we as a nation are still insecure about our own culture, heritage, and lifestyle. So insecure, in fact, that a comment that could easily be ignored became national news in a matter of hours. Maybe, it’s time for everyone to move on and focus on more important things like, is everyone getting enough food in the first place?
If you must outrage, do it over the fact that the White man clubbed hundreds of cuisines as ‘Indian food’
Senior copy editor, ThePrint
If you must outrage over a White man calling Indian food ‘terrible’, outrage over the fact that he clubbed thousands of different cuisines into one ungainly category. There is no ‘Indian food’ — our tastes and flavours differ every few kilometres. But the ‘tyranny of the tandoor’ (as food writer and historian Pushpesh Pant calls it) has made sure that the world only knows India through butter chicken and ‘naan bread’. Sadly, the outrage has been over how dare he not like ‘Indian food’ and not the term itself.
I know several Indians who don’t like Naga food or Gujarati food or Andhra food, and yet it does not become a talking point. We Indians seem to crave foreigners’ validation, especially if they are White. On YouTube, videos of Americans or British people eating Indian food for the first time get millions of views. This, in a country where we have to Google what people in other states eat.
Also, is it really surprising a White man called our food terrible? For decades, Indians living abroad have been subjected to racism over what we eat. ‘Indian women smell like curry,’ they say. When my cousin was looking for an apartment in Washington DC, a man said to her that he is unsure about letting her stay because of how the apartment will ‘smell’. And yet, for thousands of years, Europeans knocked on our shores for spice.
This outrage could only take place on Twitter, which allows over-the-top acts to demote other’s views
It is hard for me, as an Indian, to fathom that our food is “terrible”. At the same time, would I wager a war of words with a random White person for not liking my food? Probably not.
But would I do it on Twitter? Well, that’s a grey area. Our interactions on it are laced by overwhelming displays of intellect, some jargon and occasionally putting people down for having their own opinions. Somehow, Twitterati always manages to make people feel bad for holding different views from the popular narrative. What started as a reasonably normal food opinion has snowballed into an unnecessary debate on the social media platform.
I think that this debate would actually only be triggered on Twitter. To the extent that India’s leading food delivery company, Zomato was running around looking for the ‘unlike’ button. It would be hard to imagine a similar kind of row in a restaurant. Twitter allows and encourages over-the-top acts to demote one’s views. This is also assuming that the academician wasn’t trying to rile people.
By Kairvy Grewal, journalist at ThePrint