Long Reads

5 Times I Kinda Stepped In It at Smitten Kitchen

September 28, 2016

I don't mean to chip away at this galaxy mirror cake-like veneer of perfection about me—what? stop laughing, quit it—but there have been times over the 1125 recipes to date on Smitten Kitchen when I've, uh, stepped in it. You know, said something that came out wrong. Okay, just said the wrong thing / could have probably done a little more research and offended fewer people / used a different choice of words / actually just not told that story at all. Here are five that stand out the most on my own personal Cringe Meter:

Photo by Deb Perelman

Shakshuka

An Israeli restaurant in my neighborhood made shakshuka and we were obsessed with it. I made a version from Saveur. I called it an Israeli dish. It did not go over well.

  • "Israeli? Really? ...I guess all dishes in the Middle East have now become officially “Israeli”."

  • "This may be popular in Israel but it is NOT an Israeli dish. It is an Arab dish along with hummus, falafel, shawarma, etc. Israel was created in 1947 and Arabs were eating these foods a long time before that..."

  • "Oh, and by the way, there’s almost no such thing as original 'Israeli' cuisine. Most of the cuisine is just an adaptation from Eastern Europe or North Africa, which came with the Jews who arrived to Israel after WW2. In this case, that version of shakshuka is indeed from North Africa (Morocco, Libya, Tunisia—I think it was popular in all of them)."

  • "Why can’t the Israelis just call these foods: shakshuka, hummus, and falafel like the rest of us Middle Easterners? Could it be about cultural appropriation, similar to land appropriation. In the same why they can admit that Palestine belonged to others, they can’t admit that these foods belonged to others. This IS the Israeli problem."

The upshot: It now, correctly, says the dish is of Tunisian origin. I cringe that I hadn't done five additional minutes of research. I did have to delete some pretty hateful comments, so rare for my site, which sucked.


Car Bomb Cupcakes

Photo by Deb Perelman

Geez Deb, couldn't see how that could have gone off wrong!

  • "Holy offensive name, Batman! Seriously. The drink—or its name, at least—is an American invention; actual car bombs caused such death and destruction in Northern Ireland that anyone ordering one in a pub anywhere in Ireland would be fully deserving of a black eye. Christ."

  • "Associating something so horrific with a baked good (or drink) may strike some as flippant and others as downright offensive."

  • "As the wife of a former British Royal Marine Commando, I can tell you that the name is in very poor taste. I get why it’s supposed to be funny and certainly don’t judge (I just refuse to use it myself), but the fact of the matter is that people—both civilian and military—die or are seriously injured in car bombs. This happened during The Troubles and it happens today around the world."

The upshot: I changed the name fairly quickly. My friends—terrible people, all of them—chided me endlessly for caving to what they considered mob rule, but, and oh god this is horribly twee, it was one of the first times I found that having a wide audience was making me a nicer or at least more mature person. I mean, here were actual people who lived and do live with dark stuff like this, and I was making cupcakes? I cringe now, I cringe so hard.


Parmesan Broth with Kale and White Beans

Photo by Deb Perelman

"I'm going to start off the year with a recipe for an amazing vegetarian soup! With Parm!" thought Deb in 2014.


Goulash

Photo by Deb Perelman

I made a Gourmet recipe from 1994. I got an email from a food blogger about five minutes later that said "I wrote about goulash once. You might want to close your laptop now." I thought she was being melodramatic.

  • "Don’t you ever, ever put flour, starch or anything in this food—humiliation. Forget about beer too. Pasta is a deal-breaker too. Onions should be shallow fried at the beginning until hydrous."

  • "This sounds like an L.A. version. …You should not have shown up in my ‘traditional Hungarian goulash w/ egg noodles’ search. You should be ashamed of yourself!!!!!"

Some were more explanatory:

  • "This is a long-standing beef (no pun intended) that Hungarians have about goulash. It’s almost never authentic and considering it’s usually the only food people associate with Hungary, we get a bit rankly about it (factor in a century of foreign occupation and goulash becomes a veritable metaphor for all the ways we were wronged and how we're just still so misunderstood. sobs). This is not to say that these North American versions aren’t tasty. "

Some took a bigger view:

  • "As the author of five cookbooks, I’d like to offer a quick thought to those who take umbrage at the use of goulash. Indeed, if we all made one goulash recipe and never innovated we would never progress. Make what you consider to be your goulash, or if you want something new, try this goulash. There is not just one version of lasagna or tacos or any dish."

The upshot: It remains and offended comments still trickle in. The best comments tell me exactly the right way to make it; I look forward to crunching them all together and making it the "correct" way soon.


Sour Cream Bran Muffins

I used the words "Meat Hangover." I'm so sorry.

Shop the Story

Deb Perelman is our Writer in Residence this month. See her previous—wonderful!—pieces here.

37 Comments

Tini T. September 19, 2017
I can't even imagine how these commenters would react if they encountered something actually offensive.
 
Transcendancing December 16, 2016
Go you for writing about this in another place and drawing attention to the things that didn't go so well communications wise. It's not an easy thing to do to own that you may have hurt or offended people, messed something up or misattributed something. But not only have you done what you can to address things one way or another, but here you are sharing it again so that hopefully we all take an extra moment or two to think whether our flippant writing or witty comment is actually that, and doesn't miss the mark. People may say this is just about food, but food is central to many people's lives and experiences of family, history and culture - in that sense, some hurts are not little at all and it doesn't take much to just reframe and be respectful or kinder.
 
Susan October 21, 2016
Gee how could anyone be offended by your tone regarding Israel? Did anyone think you were talking about food?<br />
 
Esther S. October 21, 2016
Keep doing what you're doing. Unfortunately our society is being driven into a trend that everyone is offended by everything. Makes them feel superior. <br /><br />I always teach my kids that 95% of the time being "offended" is your own choice. Someone's words can only hurt you if you allow them to. <br /><br />I wish people learned that and just follow the freakin recipe<br /><br />Love your site
 
sue C. October 3, 2016
Dear God in Heaven... this is what people complain about? GAFL. Our world is going down in flames around us, we are draining our natural resources, our bees are dying, and we treat the Earth and each other horrifically... and these clowns are complaining about this? Wah wah wah... go do something actually constructive, try to make the world a better place, just attempt to try to be kind and stop being so offended by everything that doesn't really matter an iota in the big picture. Bunch of idiots these humans are. Keep trying to do what you do honey. Don't even let people like this matter.
 
Kelly October 2, 2016
Deb, So sorry you had to endure mean comments. Some people go around their whole lives looking for stuff to bitch about. You are a gifted, generous writer, and SK is my very favorite blog. It's wonderful to see you teamed up with Food52!
 
Jane/NM October 2, 2016
I have to confess that I was vastly entertained by the cupcake drama. I'm on the side of your mean friends who think you should have left the name as-is.
 
Liz B. October 2, 2016
Deb, I was intro'd to SK via your (unfortunately named) CB cupcakes back in about 2008, 2009 and I've been in love with your site ever since. I admire your ability to take a grand bow when you fail, apologize and then learn and grow from the mistake. Isn't that what grace and success are all about, after all? Thanks for your dedication and your continued perseverance in inspiring us all to be better cooks and better people. Warmly, Liz Butler (cooking in Austin, TX)
 
EL October 2, 2016
Hi Deb: I am still working my way through your website and didn't see these cringing moments, but this is a common problem on the internet. Most people do not realize the impact of seeing something in writing. The great thing about the internet (via email) and other components of electronic communication are that many, many more people write than previously. The downside is that people who are not used to writing and receiving letters/email do not really appreciate the impact of receiving a comment in writing that might be perfectly okay to say face to face or on the phone, but comes across as hateful in writing. You might be able to say the things and have your listener understand that you aren't being malicious. But if you put the same thing in writing, it has a much greater impact. And of course, the impact is increased by being on the internet and on a public blog (but this is why I hate Facebook).<br /><br />I am sorry that you had to learn this in such a public forum. Most, if not all of us have had our cringing moments as well (mine have mostly been private luckily). The internet is great thing, but this is one consequence of having such an open forum in which express ideas.
 
Mark L. October 2, 2016
Deb it is just inflammatory what you said. I did not see the hateful comments but stick to cooking and voice your politics elsewhere. Unless of course you want hateful comments because I do know your comments were hurtful to others. It might have been written cute and in context of benign food blog but it was hurtful nonetheless. I wish you well but I will do all I can to avoid you in the future.
 
stefica01 October 2, 2016
Did we read the same article? The one in which a human being acknowledges some missteps and grows from them?
 
Acacia October 2, 2016
What are you talking about specifically?
 
Dg October 21, 2016
You are an idiot, and I mean that in the nicest, most respectful way possible.
 
KellyBcooks September 29, 2016
Oh Deb! I feel for you. Simple mistakes, no malicious intent. You are still an awesome blogger, my personal fav; putting yourself (truly yourself) out there, it happens. I'm so glad you are the writing here this month. Two of my favs all in one place! Thanks for sharing, as always. Keep up the good work ;)
 
The H. September 29, 2016
I feel your pain Deb; I once got lambasted for putting alcohol in an 'Persian' fruit cake. Never again!
 
soleilnyc September 29, 2016
I don't understand..what was wrong with your Kale soup? Cheese is vegetarian. I mean...did you use chicken broth? Were you meaning to make a vegan soup?
 
Rachel P. September 29, 2016
Apparently some parmesan is not vegetarian.
 
soleilnyc September 29, 2016
Ah! Of course..I would never have thought of the rennet in the cheese. It's like that time I made seitan steaks from scratch for a vegan guest, and then simmered them in chicken stock. Doh.
 
Tina B. September 29, 2016
I never thot of cheese not being vegetarian because so many vegetarian friends eat cheese. I wonder if they haven't thought of it either... now, I understand. Thanks for clearing that up, Rachel.<br />
 
Rachel P. September 29, 2016
I loved this post - it reminds me of the time I got trolled for putting carrots in a Norwegian fish soup (based off of the Norwegian fish soup I had in Norway. With carrots in.) just on a much bigger scale!
 
Wwp September 29, 2016
Lordy is the Internet populated with entitled, petty, and officious twits....
 
Kat T. September 29, 2016
I am so excited you are writing for Food52 - it's a marriage of two of my favorite food related internet corners in one. This article, like all your posts, is great - a bit self deprecating, informative and honest. We all make mistakes - yours are just immortalized in front of a very large online audience. You are much thicker skinned than I am!
 
Kim D. September 28, 2016
It is amazing to me that anyone has the guts to write something, anything, and post it for general consumption, given the nature of hateful anonymous criticism. I'm a published cookbook author and I've had my share of hits below the belt. Yes, perhaps you could have researched a topic more thoroughly, but really, at the end of the day, haters are just gonna hate. You should congratulate yourself for being brave and for not letting the trolls get you down. Keep on writing, and so will I! <br />
 
Jennifer September 28, 2016
I wish my supervisors at work could see this column--it's really a model of how to say "I wish I had done things differently," so important for leadership. (Although if my supervisors would only bring in cupcakes, no matter what they called them, that also might improve my attitude.)
 
Mimi T. September 28, 2016
To be honest, I didn't think car bombs were offensive, but then I thought about it and I realized, "Well I hate it when people talk about taking Kamikaze shots. " It's interesting we don't really think about it how it can offend unless someone outside of our culture uses it.
 
Mimi T. September 28, 2016
That said, I have never called anyone out because I know they don't mean any harm. Like, they weren't using in an offensive way so why even get mad?
 
Dafna |. September 28, 2016
Wow, people are mean. Your readers, of all people, should know that there is never malicious intent on your part. We can't know everything about every food in every culture. Regarding shakshuka, there absolutely *is* an Israeli iteration, just as there are versions in other Middle Eastern/North African cultures, and there is nothing wrong with that; sounds like some of those people have some deeper feelings about the Middle East that have nothing to do with shakshuka. BECAUSE HOW COULD ANYONE HAVE ANYTHING AGAINST SHAKSHUKA. Anyway, thank you as always for being the most human blogger in the blogosphere. :)