This past weekend, I caught wind of a mildly viral tweet that bemoaned the existence of a Pinterest post. The post in question depicted some "Taco Pop Tarts" that looked an awful lot like empanadas, the savory filled pastries found frequently in Latin America.
This tweet bounced through my Twitter feed with the usual groan that accompanies such SEO-friendly culinary misdemeanors—ones that claim "discovery" or "invention" of a food some of us, especially those of us whose forefathers came of age outside America, hold sacred. I have trained my eye to detect when tweets like this make the rounds, because it happens with rather metronomic regularity these days—see, for example, the justified opprobrium that Disney’s kale-tainted “healthy gumbo” debacle attracted in September, or Refinery29’s 200-word backhanded compliment to the Filipino purple sweet yam, ube.
Upon first glance, it seemed that we'd found the latest entrant in this series, ripped straight from the 2016 playbook of laying claim to a widely-consumed, non-American staple food and cluelessly stripping it of history. Right?
What helped this image travel was the fact that it was decapitated from its byline and any surrounding contextualization. After some digging that took me a total of two seconds, I learned this recipe for "taco pop tarts" had originally been published on Babble, a Disney-backed venture that markets itself as a site for "Entertainment, News, and Lifestyle for Moms," back in April. Its author was upstate New York-based lifestyle blogger Sheri Silver, who runs her own landscape design firm and maintains a semi-regular blog, "Donuts, Dresses, and Dirt," where she often shares her favorite recipes. “Growing up, one of my very favorite snacks—hands down—was Pop Tarts,” her article opens. “I’m delighted with this savory, lunchbox-friendly twist on my beloved childhood treat!” What follows is a recipe for “Beef Taco Pop Tarts,” a mash-up of ground beef, corn, and beans topped with shredded cheese before they're folded into pie crusts.
I spoke to Silver this morning over the phone, because I wanted to give her a chance to explain. I wondered if she’d known about the Twitter call-out. She hadn't. “This is not on my own blog, this is on one of the sites I write for,” she reminded me. “They have to dig like you did to reach me directly.”
I then asked her matter-of-factly: what exactly is the difference between a taco pop tart and an empanada, in her eyes? Was she mindful of this difference when drafting the recipe?
“Well, to be perfectly honest, I don’t know what the difference is,” she told me. “And it certainly wasn’t my intent in terms of appropriating another food and calling it my own.” If this seems like a porous line of defense—how many apologies have you heard couched in the language of intent and ignorance?—Silver seemed brutally aware of the criticism those were leveling against her, and was trying to reassert her lack of specious intent, insisting that she just didn't know any better. "A pop-tart has sort of broad-stroke connotations as a pastry," she said. "In this case, savory. Sometimes it's sweet. If you read my article, you would see there’s absolutely no reference to anything other than the fact that this is a nice, convenient food to put in a lunchbox.”
On the basis of three minutes, Silver seemed like an affable, sweet person. Speaking to her reminded me how terribly easy it's become to abstract the perceived aggressor at hand in these cycles of glee-tinged outrage, especially in the food world when a number of us have—rightly—begun to do what we can to encourage more rigorous coverage. Who's the person on the other end of these transgressions, though? I’ve been guilty of this, too—assuming ill intent, if not outright ignorance, and engaging in pile-ons that go beyond merely pushing for more thoughtful coverage. Silver seemed, if anything, surprised and disheartened that she overstepped a fault line, and determined to do better.
Platforms like Twitter are not exactly conducive to nuance; I told her I understood the gentle trauma of seeing oneself go viral. I was, frankly, surprised that she hadn't received any letters or emails berating her for this recipe, considering how regularly that happens online. Once she knew that I wasn't out to get her, she lightened up. “I wish I were big enough to have that happen to me more often,” she laughed. “Give me some trolls!”
I want an empanada now. Anyway, talk about your favorite empanadas in the comments!