#10. How To Talk About India (& South Asia) and Other Writings Like That
Raves and Rants of the Usual Kind
Yes, yes, we are still in a pandemic. Yay for the FDA approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and yay for Moderna that’s submitted its validation and trial data to the FDA this week—spectacular week for science, and even more spectacular week for anti-vaxxers who are hard at work moving goal posts, again. And again. And again.
But today I wanted to talk more about what’s important. Good writing. Good food. In this pandemic, we surround ourselves with what we feel comfortable with. Like sourdough starters. Like backyard farming. Like Zoom calls. Okay, maybe not zoom calls, but you know.
Books, Essays & OpEds
So here are a few books I strongly recommend you get from your local independent bookstore and I’ll tell you why.
From University of Iowa Press, this fantastic book on South Asian, in particular, Bengali food origins, history and current adaptation reads like a mystery. Food history is a world heritage story that has all the drama of a tense thriller or maybe a mystery. Asking the universal questions that my own book, Khabaar: An Immigrant Journey (forthcoming Spring 2022 from the same press!) questions also—Whose food is it? Who gets to tell its tale? What is the history that accompanies it and who tells the history? The victor? And who reclaims it and how? From the origins of green chilies, to the history of tea and the origins of cheese in Bengal through colonization and regional adaptation, this is an amazing read with history, research, data, recipes and memoir. Also, Nina, my editor, is a fantastic human and deserves all the accolades. So, pretty please, get her book if you can?
Pooja Makhijani’s Beverly Cleary Taught Me How to Share My Divorce Story in Catapult
Okay, I’m biased. I love Pooja’s photography and writing. She can do no wrong. However, this also speaks so much to me, I had to share.
She writes, “I’d internalized the stigma of being a South Asian divorcée, even though my immediate family had been more supportive—materially, emotionally, spiritually—than I could have ever imagined. My feelings were irrational, but they were.”
Having been there myself in 2016, unmoored, unfamilied, unfriended, unwifed, this highlights our cultural stigma and subsequent conditioning of divorced women, and what we do in our ‘after’. I wrote about it when I was in that life, almost a decade ago. It rings true every time I read someone else having gone through a similar experience. A spectacular essay, and Catapult is an amazing journal that everyone should read.
Racism Masquerading as Satire: Padma Lakshmi’s Rebuttal
A white man dissed our food. And no, you don’t get to say, “Not all white men.”
Author Nayomi Munaweera aptly posted on social media yesterday, “…when a POC critiques white supremacy and racism (which is literally killing all of us and the planet and is based on experiences that POC has experienced or witnessed) it doesn’t mean that that particular POC hates white people but is instead an act of service, maybe even an act of love, coz I’m tired…”
A daft column by a privileged, doubling-down-on-racism columnist was allowed to publish hurtful comments on a very established media outlet, The Washington Post, a newspaper I myself was honored to have published in. The WaPo Food team washed their hands off this satire. But it remains there, proud, unabashed, racist as ever on a national news outlet. So, white people, it’s on you to educate yourself, and your people—when a POC says, don’t diss POC hair, color, words, food, because it’s racist, don’t do it. It’s that simple.
I’m linking author and media personality as well as Twitter darling Padma Lakshmi’s response to it here. She doesn’t speak for all of us even when she does. But at least, she’s trying.
She writes, “My issue is not his performative contrarianism (though it is tedious) or that the Indian cuisines he has tasted did not please him — but that his writing, besides being racist and lazy, is simply not funny.
For generations, people have slung racist insults about the “stinky” foods of immigrants: Italians with garlic, Irish with cabbage, Koreans with kimchi and, yes, South Asians with curry. It was never funny.”
Just so you know, I’m exhausted and continue to be the raging immigrant. And so this has been a very hurtful time for many like me. No one wants to be the raging immigrant. (I am trademarking that like I am a brand :-)— The Raging Immigrant(TM)
We all want to be the ‘model’ immigrant—whatever that means.
You get it. I know you get it.
And Now, Books by Afghan Women
I’m so happy that Electric Literature highlighted these authors, and I can’t wait to discuss those books with you soon. Here is the link. Let me know what you think.
This week has also been me rage-cooking, cooking to escape, cooking to feed my lab team members, cooking to feed my farmers who give me amazing produce daily and cooking to reduce my rage some more. It helps tremendously, I have to say. If you don’t cook, I highly recommend it—it’s better than yoga and meditation, for sure. I also use more than one spice. If you read Padma’s rebuttal, you’ll know why.
Here are a few and yes, food porn it is. But we need that sometime so here you go.
(Fresh spinach/basil dip with coarse sea salt, pepper, and tons of garlic—use as a sauce to bake salmon, over grilled veggies or shrimp)
Ghee with unsalted butter infused with homegrown sage and oregano)—it goes great with rice, but also on bread or roti along with Calabrian peppers
Basil/parsley/spinach pesto with greens from neighbors that I love, love, love.
The mortar pestle with the chili pepper in it is my dear friend and amazing writer, Nancy Frank’s—who died a couple of years ago of lung cancer. I miss her daily and remember her sense of humor, and joy every time I cook.
And finally, the last section of food porn and the reason to inundate you with these photos. See below.
Tomato chutney with desi spices and tons of chili peppers
Tomatoes are in season and I used to be the Chutney Queen of San Diego once upon a time. So when the farmers sent me off with a ton of tomatoes that were overripe, I made this chutney with tons of serrano and Thai chili peppers, chaat masala and lemon juice. It’s spicy, chatpataa, flavorful, amazing on rice, bread, on fish, meat, anything, everything.
Why am I inundating you with food photos? Because I cook with spices, flavors, sunshine, veggies, meats, fish and love. Love. There is joy in what I present. And among South Asians, I’m not the only one. We ALL do it. Food brings us together. It’s what keeps us sane. It’s what brings happiness. Community. Family.
A white man’s attempt at racial and colonial humor shouldn’t take the joy out of what we do. Let’s cook. Let’s read. Let’s eat. We are all worth it.
Take care of yourself. Find joy in what you do. If you don’t find joy, don’t do it.