Insulting the hamantasch: the insane cultural policing of recipes

February 24, 2021 • 10:30 am

Every day I find or am sent quite a few examples of wokeness gone mad, and every day I post only one or two of them. But the accumulation of craziness is making me think that the world has gone bonkers, and I’m not sure why. Is it the pandemic? Is it social media? Who knows? If I could figure that out, I’d be a psychologist or sociologist, not a biologist. So I proffer these examples for your amusement, but also to show you that there’s a behavior afoot with the potential to turn America into Orwell’s Oceania.

In his new column in the New York Times, appropriately titled below, Bret Stephens describes a new campaign at Bon Appétit food magazine that truly underlines the humorlessness of the Woke. (A variant of an old joke: A man walks into a Woke bookstore, asks about a book, and is told by a clerk, “Sorry, sir, this is a social-justice bookstore. We don’t have a humor section.”)

Click on the screenshot to read:

The fracas at Bon Appétit is about a Jewish pastry: hamantaschen. They’re triangular cookies, usually filled with prune or apricot preserves, and served at the holiday of Purim (the shape is modeled on the three-corned hat of the Purim bad guy Haman).  I happen to love them, particularly the traditional prune-filled version. Here’s an apricot one that I ate in Brookline, Massachusetts in January of last year.

A good hamantasch has a cookie that is soft and not too dry, and they vary in quality. And there’s the rub, for in 2015 food writer Dawn Perry (not a Jew!) wrote the following article (click on screenshot):

The name has been changed, though: it was originally “How to Make Actually Good Hamantaschen”. Why the change? Because of a Pecksniff who apparently took the title as a denigration of Jews via the implication that Hamantaschen aren’t “actually good.” But Perry doesn’t say that; she says this:

Hamantaschen are shaped to resemble Haman’s 3-cornered hat and traditionally stuffed with sweet fillings made of poppy seeds, dried fruits, or fruit preserves (among others). Sounds tasty, right? But achieving the right balance is not always easy to pull off.

So I set out to create a cookie that hit all the right notes: The cookie itself would be a pleasure to eat, whether or not you encountered filling in each bite. And the fillings themselves would be were after baking, but not too sweet.

If you read the article, you’ll see that Perry tweaked traditional hamantasch recipes a bit, suggesting using butter instead of oil or shortening (an improvement!), using jam instead of preserves, putting an egg wash on the cookie, and so on. None of the changes fundamentally altered the pastry. But she does suggest other changes, like a cinnamon-date filling, that, while they may really offend the Pecksniffs, sound fantastic.

Stephens reports on said Pecksniff:

Six years later, a woman named Abigail Koffler found the article while researching hamantaschen fillings. She was not amused.

Perry, Koffler wrote on Twitter, isn’t Jewish. Perry’s husband, Koffler added, had been forced out of his job at Condé Nast last year based on accusations of racial bias. Above all, Koffler objected, “Traditional foods do not automatically need to be updated, especially by someone who does not come from that tradition.”

Most Jews would probably be grateful for an “actually good” hamantasch. Yet within hours of Koffler’s tweets, Bon Appétit responded with an editor’s note atop the article, now renamed “5 Steps to Really Good Hamantaschen.” It’s a note that defies summary, parody and belief.

And here’s that editor’s note: (I am not making this up; click on the screenshot):

Yes, that’s right: the magazine has instituted an “Archive Repair Project” to go back and sanitize any ideologically dubious recipes. So far they’ve sniffed out and bowdlerized over 200 recipes.  Shoot me now!

Stephens draws from this incident three conclusions about Wokeness:

Behold in this little story, dear reader, the apotheosis of Woke.

No transgression of sensitivities is so trivial that it will not invite a moralizing rebuke on social media.

No cultural tradition is so innocuous that it needn’t be protected from the slightest criticism, at least if the critic has the wrong ethnic pedigree.

No writer is so innocent that she should be spared from having her spouse’s alleged failings trotted out to suggest discrimination-by-association.

And no charge of cultural insensitivity is so far-fetched that it won’t force a magazine into self-abasing self-expurgation. What Bon Appétit blithely calls its “Archive Repair Project” is, according to HuffPost, an effort to scour “55 years’ worth of recipes from a variety of Condé Nast magazines in search of objectionable titles, ingredient lists and stories told through a white American lens.”

Stephens goes into other examples that are more egregious but never got redacted, like an offensive cover of The New Yorker. He also describes the demonization of Professor Jason Kilborn at the University of Illinois at Chicago Law School, an example we’ve already seen.

Let this serve as one more example, loonier than ever, of the policing of culture. I am a secular Jew, have eaten hamantaschen whenever I can get them, and love them. Am I offended if someone wants to put butter in them, or give them an egg wash? Not on your life—it would probably make them even better!

So what if the person is a shicksa? Can only Jews tweak Jewish food? Not in my view. “Cultural appropriation” of this type is not only a form of flattery, but a way to appreciate other cultures and create “hybrid” foods, like buttery hamantaschen, that might be better than the original. Not every ethnic food is immune to improvement, you know.

Stephens is a conservative, so this wokeness plays into his court. But it offends me as well, and should offend you. These Leisure Fascists are running amok, telling us what we can and cannot do with our culture and those of other people. So long as the “appropriation” isn’t exploitative or denigrating—and this isn’t—I’m all in favor.

Stephens ends his piece this way:

A friend of mine, a lifelong liberal whose patience is running thin with the new ethos of moral bullying, likes to joke, “Woke me when it’s over.” To which I say: Get comfortable.

After publishing this, I wonder how long Stephens has at the New Woke Times.

As for Bon Appétit‘s other redacted recipes, I don’t know from them. But I do know hamantaschen, and I approve of Perry’s article. The calling out of her husband by Pecksniff Koffler is beyond belief.

71 thoughts on “Insulting the hamantasch: the insane cultural policing of recipes

  1. When will this end? At some point these people will have to recognize how stupid it is, right? (Rhetorical question… I realize that this point will never arrive.)

    1. When will this end?

      When some important question comes along to distract people from such trivialities.
      I note – with some disappointment – that a major pandemic hasn’t been enough. So we’re going to have to go up a notch or several. Maybe that Ebola virus outbreak will escape West Africa and provide sufficient distraction.

  2. Thus we descend into tribalism. Once in an English as a Second Language class (oops, I’m told second implies inferior) two girls from different states in Mexico came close to blows over a pinch of sugar in the enchiladas.

  3. ‘[A]n effort to scour “55 years’ worth of recipes from a variety of Condé Nast magazines in search of objectionable titles, ingredient lists and stories told through a white American lens.” ‘- yup, that’ll fix the world’s most urgent problem.

  4. I saw this in this morning’s Denver Post and could only shake my head. There seems to be no end to the pettiness of the perpetually offended.

  5. “But the accumulation of craziness is making me think that the world has gone bonkers, and I’m not sure why. Is it the pandemic? Is it social media? Who knows?”

    It is interesting that you feel this way, Jerry. I’ve been meaning for a while to make the same observation to you, and ask what you think is going on. As someone who has studied evolution, behaviour, and particularly animal behaviour, for about 35 years, I truly believe that there is a tremendous amount of mental illness out there. Population density, the communicative abnormality that is ‘social media’, the lack of contact with truly natural environments, and the historically relative lack of immediate threats to our well-being (we are safe, not hungry, and therefore have too little to REALLY worry about and be busy with, so we obsess over the trivial and mundane), all contribute to ‘inappropriate behaviour’. There is too much to express and discuss here (clearly, tribal instincts out of context play a role), but I wondered what you and others thought. Thanks.

    1. It seems to me that a lot of this is born of the fact that a certain type of person – many of whom are what Dave Barry might have referred to as the “humor impaired” – who would in the past have been forced simply to write “letters to the editor” and would then have to to go to the trouble of mailing these in and seeing if anyone noticed, can now, thanks to the internet and anti-social media, not only find many more things about which to become splenetic, but then can share those reactions more or less instantly in ways that can easily reach other similarly offense-prone people, who often share or otherwise echo them, and can engender in those who really don’t want to cause people discomfort, or who just want to avoid trouble, a feeling that they should be listened to because they are extravagantly loud (if only metaphorically)*. However, as I like to say, a__holes often make a lot of noise, but mostly they just produce hot air and sh_t.

      I think some of this phenomenon could be minimized of more people could respond to the complaints with a noncommittal “duly noted,” which is a polite way of saying, “Oh, f_ck off and get a life.” I hope this point is reached before we get to some Mao-level cultural revolution.

      Before that happens, as Dave Barry also said, “I, for one, plan to be dead.”

      *Man, that was a long sentence!

  6. -Wouldn’t have a problem with this title change…if the subject was an article currently being written.

    -Obvious alarm bells about going back through records and altering recipes. Altering the mere title is dodgy, but changing recipes people are publishing is frankly intellectual fraud. You don’t like Perry’s recipe? Don’t publish it. But never ever change it to something you find more suitable and claim it’s Perry’s.

    -Hate to burst Koffler’s bubble, but bakers “update traditional recipes” almost literally every time they bake them. Maybe not for mass produced stuff, but for home cooking, tweaking recipes is probably ubiquitous practice. That’s part of the art of cooking. Just even for practical reasons – my chances of finding everything in my grandmother’s 1950 recipe in a 2020 Safeway is pretty slim. Substitutions are the norm.

  7. Though I admit I prefer prunes or apricots, I think the traditional filling is mohn, or poppy seeds. I used to go monthly to a bakery that sold hamantashen all year round. It was run by a Polish couple. When I told them in passing that hamantashen were specific to Purim, they promoted them for a week or so before Purim, but the hamantashen stayed all year. That was before anyone had heard of cultural appropriation.

    1. How many people have lost their jobs to poppy seeds in the baked goods?
      I really mean, “how many more people” … we had one activist at the union sacked because of a poppy-seed coated roll (provided by the company, due to flight delays). And we won the industrial tribunal that followed, which really angered the oil company.

      1. Is that really a thing? It is weird for me. I grew up in an environment where bakery and pastry containing poppy seeds was common. We actually ate such thing in the school cafeteria. Before we joined the EU there were rumors that it is going to be forbidden because of EU regulation. But then we joined and nothing like that happened. Every bakery in the city sell them. You can go to any farmers market and buy poppy seeds by the kilogram. Weird.

        1. It was good enough to get one of the union’s shop stewards sacked. Our defence was good enough to get him reinstated. And that was against some absolutely rabid anti-union American Human Remains Manglers with deep corporate pockets. I infer that Legal told them that their so-called evidence was going to be shredded in the Tribunal, and they threw their cards in.
          Cost us a couple of thousand pounds to deposit against costs at the Tribunal (yeah, sure, justice is everyone’s right – if you’ve got the money), before legal fees. But it got our member back onto his installation and employment, and the American got retired back to America. Result!

  8. I always wonder at the reaction of people and organizations to these complaints. Do they feel that they’ve really done something wrong? Are they trying to head-off wider criticism? Are they trying to terrorize their staff? Ultimately, is this cynical or not. A friend and I used to complain that Disney was always pandering to the left, but now it’s clear that they’ve been captured by the woke. I have to think that there’s a mix of honest(!) wokeness, dupes, power grabbers (for this is ultimately political), and the scared, but in what proportions. People need to being saying, “Enough!”

    1. Perhaps we currently fall below the critical point of enough people saying “Enough!” to roll back the confected criticism? If the first reaction to some Woke Criticism was “Thank you for your comments, we will bear them in mind for the future” then that might be a good start.

      Perhaps businesses and organisations fear that they might lose custom if they don’t grovel, but I suspect the complainers were never likely to be long term customers anyway.

  9. One of the replies to the tweet was

    “If people are not trying to appropriate or improve or riff on your culture, it’s because your culture sucks.”

    I think that sums it up. Most people seem to like it when others out side their culture adopt some aspects of it and even sometimes improve them.

  10. If anything, trying to force us Jews to eat the usually dry and poorly made Hamantaschen is a crime! They’re dry and crumbly far too often. Having a good one is like finding a big, beautiful truffle.

    I’m thankful to anyone who can provide a recipe for an actually good hamantaschen.

  11. My wife and I prefer apricot, my parents loved poppy seed filling. This is crazy. Unfortunately, you can’t fix stupid and that defines the excesses of the Woke.

  12. As Stephens mentions, the “Archive Repair Project” is truly Orwellian. If you’re going to scrub this kind of text from your archive just do it and don’t try to make it look virtuous.

    On cultural appropriation, it seems to me very context sensitive. As an example, I love Indian food and attempt to cook it at home. Many of the recipes I’ve tried are from non-Indians, because proper Indian food can be very labor intensive to cook, with ingredients I often don’t have. So recipes from non-Indians are easier to make, often with decent results (nowhere near as good as the Indian restaurants I frequent, of course).

    Is this cultural appropriation? I don’t think so. But if a non-Indian’s recipe had been titled “How to make lamb vindaloo that’s actually good” then I’d absolutely understand Indian people feeling offended by that.

    1. The title is readily lends itself to 2 different interpretations. One in which the implication is that the traditional food item is not very good and the recipe writer is going to tell you how to change it in order to make it good.

      The other, in which the implication is that frequently people trying to make the traditional food item don’t get it right, perhaps because of unfamiliar techniques, ingredients, or bastardized recipes, and the recipe writer is going to tell you how to make it so it comes out right.

      Probably others too, but those 2 are the first that came to mind when I read the title. In any case, let’s face it. Many traditional food items aren’t really all that great as they were usually made back in the good old days and could use some help. In many cases the old traditional recipe isn’t as original as one might thing because it has evolved quite a bit over time already, to make it better.

      1. I was going to suggest something similar, but didn’t want my comment to be too long. As someone with some English ancestry I would in no way be offended to see “How to make a fruitcake that’s actually edible.” It’s one of those traditional foods that almost nobody likes, and it’s become something of a joke to make fun of it.

        But of course the Woke police would say that because it’s a product of the colonizers, it could never be offensive to mock or appropriate fruitcake.

  13. Can anyone imagine what would happen if the Woke Food & Recipe Police started going after Fusion/Eclectic restaurants?

  14. Because each generation thinks the previous generation were idiots, Gen Z will not copy the millennials. They will mock and disparage the millennials just like we did to the previous generation. When Gen Z gets into the workforce, the millennials will be treated appropriately e.g. “Okay Boomer” will be replaced by some version of moron millennial.

    At least that is my hope.

    1. A BBC radio drama the other week was set in the near future and had a character who was told as part of her employment training, “You’ll mostly be dealing with millennials who can’t cope with the new technology…”

  15. I have to wonder what Bon Appétit would make of my own group, Kosher Goyim, a Christian Faith Fellowship which believes that the best approach to the mysteries of the Holy Trinity is through Jewish food. One of our teaching films shows Jesus Christ Himself, smacking his lips and exclaiming: “That’s the Last Supper that we’ll have without extra rugelach.” Full account at:
    http://www.krabarchive.com/ralphmag/IH/kosher-goyim.html

  16. On the baking side: it’s often assumed (usually by people who don’t bake) that using butter makes everything better. Not so, in my experience. Some cookies (in particular), but also pastry, require a good, high oven temperature to come out right; with some crispiness. Butter and lard tend to burn at high heat and get de-natured in a way that imparts a really bad flavor.

    1. Is there an example of a pastry with butter that burns at high temperature? My choux pastry with butter at 400°F turns out great. What pastry do you bake at a temperature higher than that? Not a criticism, genuinely interested. Thanks.

      1. Choux paste is a different kettle of fish, though… lots of water in there via the eggs. I’m referring to cookies (the types that are supposed to turn out crisp, or partially crisp), and to pastry for American style fruit pies.

  17. I’ve subscribed to Bon Appétit ever since the wonderful Gourmet folded maybe 10 years ago. BA has gone downhill ever since, consisting these days of mostly ads. I missed the brouhaha because I don’t find the editorial content worth reading. I may stop subbing because I usually only find a couple of recipes every month that are worth trying.

    1. Time was, just about any BA or Gourmet recipe was worth trying. I’ve got tons of them saved. Somewhere. Several somewheres, actually. I’ll probably never see them again.

  18. As a Jew, I remember reading that original headline. The possibly-maybe-far-fetched insinuation that a Jewish cookie might not be good still echoes in my psyche today. I remember dropping my laptop, hyperventilating, and collapsing in uncontrollable waves of tears, while also screaming at the top of my lungs.

    My partner, also Jewish ran in to see what had happened, and I gathered myself just enough to point at the screen. She immediately fainted, and I sat there, wailing helplessly, for over an hour. Eventually she came to, and somehow we made it to the ER and spent three days recovering from our shock, emotional trauma, and severe loss of fluids. To this day, I can’t even look at a bakery.

    There must be millions like us, who suffer severe PTSD from these insensitive cultural crimes. If we allow things like this, well, next thing you know its Germany in the 30s all over again. I hope that the Archival Cleansing or whatever it’s called is successful, before millions more suffer.

  19. Seriously though, what is happening at the NYT? When some fraggle says “Hey, I think that we should spend valuable resources scouring decades-old recipes for possible minor insensitivities…” why doesn’t an adult in the room reply “No, Brandon/Madison/Tyler/Hope, that’s a really dumb idea. Not doing it.”

    1. If I understood correctly, the scouring of 50 years worth of published recipes is being done by Bon Appétit magazine, not the NYT.

  20. It seems useful to broaden the category of what is a “Karen” to include a variety of whiny, bitchy person on the left as well as on the right. Although that term has gotten a little tiresome.

    1. That, and some of the nicest, sweetest people I’ve ever known were named Karen. It’s just a name, and a meaningless coincidence, but I don’t like hearing those people’s names used as an insult. By all means, people can use my name as derogatory…I use it thus against myself numerous times every day. But leave poor Karen alone. She’s done nothing to deserve opprobrium.

      1. I have a friend a few houses down named Karen, although we have not socialized for many months. I’m hoping to commiserate with her about this unfortunate term, and while she is bemoaning it, since it really kind of sucks, I can tease her by saying “So, I suppose you will demand to see the manager?”

  21. I think that the former title of the article, “How to Make Actually Good Hamantaschen,” was patronizing and self aggrandizing but I have no problem with someone tweaking a recipe from any culture in order to improve it!

  22. A mighty bird flip to the wokers…I happen to LIKE “cultural appropriation”, especially curry, chili sauces, jerk, donar kebabs, gyros, and lots of other good eatin’

    1. Insanity! I make my carbonara with wild boar bacon (once I found some, and which might still be considered “kosher”) instead of guanciale, but WHO CARES if someone wants to add tomatoes???
      Btw, I saw this recipe in NYT cooking, which I sub to, but passed on it, not for reasons of inauthenticity, but because it didn’t appeal to me.

  23. The “leisure fascists” (funny but true) will continue to be empowered as long as the majority of people who find these things ridiculous remain silent. I heard earlier last year that some UCLA students wanted classes cancelled due to “emotional stress” of the George Floyd riots. Of course anyone with a backbone who would normally tell these kids to suck it up, be adults and show up (since that’s what you have to do in the non-academic world with real jobs) will be attacked and branded as a nazi.

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