Americans are quickly growing weary of politics seeping into every crevice of life. Long gone are the days of simply sitting down to watch a football game and enjoying some snacks. Today, one must endure the political stunts of kneeling players while wondering if those chicken wings you put on the buffet were humanely raised and slaughtered.
Some applaud the politicization of pretty much everything, even the mundane task of eating. Consider chef and cookbook author Julia Turshen’s self-congratulatory piece in the New York Times. Turshen is so woke to the issues of the day—the resistance to Trump, the lack of diversity in food media, her own habit of not inviting people of color to her dinner table (despite claiming she actually has non-white friends).
Challenged by a colleague who asked her when was the last time she invited someone “who doesn’t look like me” over for a meal, Turshen—who reminds readers every few paragraphs of her embarrassing whiteness—decided to host a Big Chill-style weekend “of conversation and organizing” (ostensibly her pantry and sock drawer…she doesn’t specify) with her non-white friends (which she made extra clear by actually writing: “My wife and I were the only white people there.” Brave).
Turshen’s weekend of self-induced diversity training was so exciting that, as she recounts, “Except to sleep, none of us ever left the kitchen table.” One simply has to assume bathroom breaks were allowed. On Instagram, Turshen published a picture of the group and wrote:
The future (of food + more) isn’t just female- it’s also black, brown, Asian, indigenous, trans, queer, non-binary, inclusive, intersectional, active, engaged, loving + thoughtful. and for those of us who have benefited from lots of privilege, it’s primarily full of listening. getting to spend a weekend with this group of friends and share stories + ideas + intentions in a safe, positive space has left me feeling grateful, compassionate, aware, and hopeful.
Might Turshen’s description of a very “diverse” group of people sitting around having a conversation in a “safe, and positive space” be code for the fact that they talked about things on which all of them agreed—like the need to resist Trump and all those yucky non-diverse people who voted for him?
Turshen clearly defines diversity as simply skin color and sexual orientation. But what about diversity of thought?
If Turshen is really committed to diversity, for her next experimental slumber party, she might try doing something truly provocative (and worthy of a New York Times article): Invite people over who think differently from how she thinks. For instance, she could invite someone who voted for Trump. Perhaps she could include someone who doesn’t think a person’s value derives from his or her skin color, or—here’s a novel idea—she could invite someone who doesn’t really think all that much about food. You know, someone who has more important things to think about, like disaster relief.
Oh sure, Turshen knows all about disaster relief workers. She wrote about them in the same New York Times opinion piece but limited her focus to the celebrity chefs who are selflessly generating their own good PR by cooking for hurricane victims. She writes about Washington, D.C., chef Jose Andres:
The Washington chef José Andrés has spent the past week in Puerto Rico cooking meals in hot-tub-size paella pans for Americans affected by Hurricane Maria. With his team, working out of mobile kitchens, restaurants and food trucks, he’s prepared more than 50,000 meals and counting.
And while we can all agree with Turshen’s feel-good point that it’s nice to give back to those those in need, she inadvertently exposes that she lives in a bubble since she seems blithely unaware that emergency response workers, state officials, private businesses (other than restaurant owners) and charities do this stuff all the time and for far less praise. Consider the work of the Southern Baptists who operate massive disaster relief kitchens that feed 20,000 people per day. Sure, it’s not celebrity-chef-made paella or high-end food but are survivors of a natural disaster taking a break from sifting through the rubble to contemplate what sort of fine dining they’ll be eating that day?
Turshen is correct that food and political activism have always been linked, but sitting around with like-minded folks talking about this historical fact doesn’t make you woke to today’s issues. It makes you just another food elitist reinforcing the walls of your high-end blown sugar bubble.