Why apple pie is a symbol of racism, genocide, white supremacy, and cultural appropriation

June 10, 2021 • 9:15 am

One of the distinguishing features of Woke journalism (or discourse in general) is that it’s sometimes impossible to distinguish from satire. That’s why the “Grievance Studies” papers of Pluckrose, Lindsay, and Boghossian got accepted in some academic journals. And it makes it harder to attack via satire, since such attacks might be taken to be promotions of Wokeism.

This new article in the Guardian, which starts by showing the racist/genocidal/white-supremacist roots of America’s iconic food, would be hilarious as a spoof, but it’s real, and a sad commentary on our times. After a long discussion of author Patel’s claim that every ingredient of the pie, as well as the gingham cloth it rests on, reflects oppression, the piece segues into a general rant about capitalism.  Some of its claims have merit (e.g., we really should do away with tipping), but there’s absolutely nothing new in the piece save the Woke Deconstruction of Apple Pie, and who really cares about that?

Click on the screenshot to read:

I’ll first put up the opening five paragraphs to give an idea of the article’s tenor, and then mention briefly its other plaints. If the words below don’t make you queasy, you’ve gotten too jaded! Every trope is here: genocide, cultural appropriation, oppression, slavery, bigotry, and so on:

Resting on gingham cloth, a sugar-crusted apple pie cools on the window sill of a midwestern farmhouse. Nothing could be more American. Officially American. The Department of Defense once featured the pie in an online collection of American symbols, alongside Uncle Sam and cowboys.

Not that apples are particularly American. Apples were first domesticated in central Asia, making the journey along the Silk Road to the Mediterranean four thousand years ago. Apples traveled to the western hemisphere with Spanish colonists in the 1500s in what used to be called the Columbian Exchange, but is now better understood as a vast and ongoing genocide of Indigenous people.

Not that the recipe for apple pie is uniquely American. It’s a variant on an English pumpkin recipe. By the time the English colonized the new world, apple trees had become markers of civilization, which is to say property. In Virginia, apple trees were used to demonstrate to the state that land had been improved. John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, took these markers of colonized property to the frontiers of US expansion where his trees stood as symbols that Indigenous communities had been extirpated.

Not that the sugar on the crust is uniquely American. Sugar cane was first brought to the US by Jesuits in 1751, but most US sugar remained an import until the Haitian revolution. When enslaved workers seized the French colony in 1791, European capitalists sought new sugar cane fields and workers. French merchants of sugar and slavery landed in Louisiana in the late 1700s. Within 50 years, the US produced a quarter of the world’s sugar cane, and New Orleans had become a concomitant hub of the slave trade. After emancipation, the economics of sugar shifted. The American civil war pushed the frontier of sugar westward. Hawaii’s sugar plantations grew during US Reconstruction. When the Philippines was a US colony between 1898 and 1946, Filipino workers were exempted from the “Asiatic barred zone”’ to work in the US sugar plantations in Hawaii, replacing more militant Japanese labourers.

Not that the gingham on which our apple pie rests is uniquely American. Columbus recorded cotton being used and worn during his first voyage by his Indigenous hosts. The gingham pattern likely originated in south-east Asia, the word deriving from the Malay genggang, a striped cloth that arrived in Europe as Europe colonized Asia. Cotton from India became central to the British East India Company, representing three-quarters of the corporation’s exports by 1766. As Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton tells, this war capitalism enslaved and committed acts of genocide against millions of Indigenous people in North America, and millions of Africans and their descendants through the transatlantic slave trade. In the process, cotton laid the basis of finance, police and government that made the United States.

. . . Since this is quite a lot to acknowledge, it is easier to misremember. In the drama of nationalist culture, the bloody and international origins of the apple pie are subject to a collective amnesia.

No comment, save to say that this is The 1619 Project applied to a dessert. I could argue that some of this is ridiculously accusatory (i.e., apple pie is just a variant of an English pumpkin pie), but the article satirizes itself. Not only that, but it effaces its serious points in a dumb endeavor to show the “bloody and international origins of the apple pie.”

Patel then goes on to indict everything involved in the American food chain, showing that “the apple pie is as American as stolen land, wealth, and labor. We live its consequences today.” Will you ever be able to eat another slice of apple pie after reading that?

Here are the other sins in the pie food chain:

Farms: white owned and racially segregated.

Food system as a whole: women are overrepresented, and the pay is dreadful (This is one of those complaints that is true but that’s true but has been made many times before).

Tipping. Agreed; we should abolish it and raise servers’ wages. But what does this have to do with pie?

Hamburgers.  Not only was beef raised by cowboys, who were exploited workers, but the meat was processed by a meatpacking industry portraying in Upton Sinclair’s 1907 novel The Jungle. (Curiously, author Patel doesn’t delve into the present-day meat industry, very different from the one portrayed in Sinclair’s horrifying account.)

There’s a long discussion of various strikes in the food industry and in agriculture, but these are nearly a century old and have nothing obvious to do with either pie or present injustice.

Racial poverty that leads to more hunger in minority communities. I agree that this is a legacy of racism and slavery that persists, but there’s no mention of poverty in any groups other than minorities. What dominates the discussion here is not class but race.

Author Raj Patel is described as

the author of Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World’s Food System. He is currently working on a documentary and book about the future of the food system

He’s deconstructed chicken nuggets the same way he’s done here.

As I said, the article is over the top in several ways, though some of its complaints are valid.  Half of it involves a deconstruction of the pie, an endeavor that is both pathetic and humorous, and goes to show only that you can take any food object—indeed, any object—and show that it is racist.

Some of the history no longer applies, and some of the injustices Patel describes have been largely rectified. My major complaint about the piece is one that I absorbed from Grania: it doesn’t accomplish anything. The points about exploitation of food workers has been done many times before, and to make your thesis by deconstructing pie does nothing except alienate (or amuse) people who eat pie. I doubt that this article will rectify a single particle of injustice, but it does provide Patel with a way to dine out on oppression.

If you want to make a political point, you don’t do it this way: I can’t imagine Orwell writing such an over-the-top, near satirical screed.  When I read it, instead of getting outraged I simply changed the famous 1946 quotation of theologian Martin Niemöller in my mind:

First they came for apple pie, and I did not speak out—because I do not eat apple pie.

Then they came for the hamburgers, and I did not speak out—for I am cutting back on red meat.

Then they came for the chicken nuggets and I did not speak out—for I do not eat nuggets and don’t even know what’s in them.

Then they came for Coca-Cola—and I could no longer buy the world a Coke because there were no eaters left.

h/t: Mark

56 thoughts on “Why apple pie is a symbol of racism, genocide, white supremacy, and cultural appropriation

  1. Quoting Niemoller reminds me of the latest (ludicrous and overblown) non-controversy involving Elin Hilderbrand:

    “Hilderbrand’s latest novel Golden Girl (Hodder), faced a social media backlash over a passage in which a character refers to Anne Frank. A passage in the book reads: “You’re suggesting I hide here all summer?” Vivi asks. “Like…like Anne Frank?” “

    1. Not necessarily. Pumpkins came from the New World, but pies made using them seem to be an English invention, according to Wikipedia. There are recipes for pumpkin pies that date from the Tudor period

      1. So I can well believe. The UK and pies are hard to imagine without each other. It’s all silly, in any case, the notion of some foodstuff or recipe “belonging” to some place or culture, when the people who invented it have all been dead for centuries.

      2. “Not necessarily. Pumpkins came from the New World, but pies made using them seem to be an English invention, according to Wikipedia. There are recipes for pumpkin pies that date from the Tudor period”

        I can feel the racism and oppression dying from our discussion as stimulated by the article already – well done, Raj Patel, well done.

      3. According to a book I once owned (loaned it out, never returned), shortly after the Pilgrims landed in 1620, the almost immediately began brewing beer, using among other items in place of malted barley, pumpkins

  2. We get it! America bad! Burn it all down! I am still waiting to here the plans for a society that has no flaws. When they destroy the food chain, who’s going to get fed? We know it won’t be “white people” (careful Asians and Hispanics and other rich kulaks, this might include you), since they are the problem and their elimination is the solution.

    1. The whole piece cited in the OP reminds me of Schiller’s immortal words (in translation):

      Against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain.

  3. I have to question the assertion that the recipe for apple pie is derived from an English recipe for pumpkin pie. As a New World foodstuff, the recipe for this new-fangled pumpkin pie would have had to be based on an extant recipe for, oh, i dunno…a pie made with apples?

  4. You have to wonder if the enemies of the West encourage or originated these stupid ideas because it seems to aim at destroying the West from within.

    1. Despite the attempt by the Republicans to paint the Democratic Party as being taken over by leftists such as AOC, the effort is failing, thus reports the Washington Post. The Post cites recent Democratic primary elections where centrists crushed their far left opponents. It notes:

      “Tuesday’s elections in Virginia, which brought the renomination of former governor Terry McAuliffe and primary losses by three of the Democrats’ most outspoken liberal delegates, only underscored a pattern that was previously apparent in special House elections in Louisiana and New Mexico. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a moderate Democrat, won his party’s nomination without a challenge from the left after two protest candidates failed to collect the 1,000 signatures needed for ballot access.”

      It goes on:

      “The trends could complicate Republican plans to reprise their 2020 campaign strategy of painting Democrats down the ballot as “radical socialists” who favor a dramatic remaking of the nation. Democratic strategists have broadly concluded that those attacks were effective in 2020, including the frequently false claims that Democrats running for federal office wanted to defund the police.”

      This means that there is no equivalency between the leftward drift of the Democratic Party and the Trumpian take over the Republican Party. The majority of Democrats are liberals or centrists, not far lefties. The challenge of the Democratic Party is to prove to the electorate at large that this is case.It needs to demonstrate that the party and its values are not those of the ranting leftists and that the few vocal far leftists that have attained office running as Democrats are a small minority. In this respect, it has not been doing all that well.


      1. In my opinion, for myself and other conservative friends, the Trumpian takeover is a Democratic fantasy, but keeping the focus on Trump is good politics for the Dems. We’d be happy to see someone else take the lead, but if there is no one else, we aren’t going to stay on the sidelines. The opposite of Trump is not supporting Biden, which the Dems think it should be.

        1. The “Trumpian takeover [of the Republican Party] is a Democratic fantasy”? My god, man, after losing the popular vote in two elections by over 10 million ballots, after failing to get even 47% of the vote in either try, after getting swamped in the electoral college the last time out, after two impeachments, after fomenting a riot at the US Capitol, after being the first US president in history to refuse to preside over a peaceful transfer of power to his successor — after all this, over two-thirds of Republicans believe Trump’s completely evidence-free lie that the last election was stolen from him, and he is currently the leading contender among Republicans for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. He has establishment Republicans making the pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago to kiss his ring, while shitting their pants in an effort to avoid incurring his wrath and the wrath of his deplorables.

          Who do YOU think is the leader of today’s GOP? Liz Cheney? Mitt Romney? Justin Amash?

          How far out on the fringe are you, DrBrydon? Do YOU believe that Donald Trump actually won the last election but had it stolen from him by massive fraud at the ballot box, as most Republicans have been conned into believing? Do you think the “cyber ninjas” are are conducting a legitimate effort to audit the presidential vote in Arizona (and, potentially, elsewhere)? Do you think Donald Trump will be reinstalled in the Oval Office in August? Do you think there’s some legit basis to QAnon?

        2. The opposites of Trump are decent human beings not compelled to lie pathologically or grift the country and one’s own clueless supporters. Anyone who continues to carry Trump’s water in light of the Jan 6th insurrection should be viewed with suspicion as an enemy of the United States.

      2. This isn’t what I was suggesting though. I suspect that foreign influence fan the flames of things like wokeism which is pervasive throughout Western culture and goes much broader and deeper than politics.

      3. Virginia has open primaries, and they don’t even ask if or what party you’re registered for. So McAuliff’s nomination is not necessarily indicative of a democratic party swing toward the middle, as it could be driven by independent and conservative voters who prefer him on the Dem ticket to anyone more left.

        Another possibility is that Dems voted for him based on record and experience rather than policy. Since VA doesn’t allow governors to serve consecutive terms in office, he’s the closest thing to “incumbent advantage” that the party can get.

  5. I suppose from now on, the only appropriate condiment for all meals will be a huge dollop of Burning Guilt.

    Incidentally, i notice that Edward de Bono has died. Can i be first to speculate about his funeral? Do we reckon he’ll be buried laterally? Or Outside The Box?

    1. I read a book by him in the mid-80’s. I recall him saying, “If everything is important, then nothing is important.” That’s all I remember. Will put on my long To Do List to skim through it.

  6. It’s always telling when The Graun doesn’t allow comments on columns like this. Is it possible they feel just the slightest bit of shame for printing such claptrap in their quest for clicks?

  7. I never knew the origin of “First they came …” – excellent!

    As for apple pie extending white supremacy, I offer dentistry :

    Dentistry increases whiteness and white supremacy of teeth. Sugar in apples and brown (!!) sugar promote the dark black color of dental cavities. Dentists – or should we say, Racists – destroy Black dental bodies with their deliberately learned techniques and instruments for exerting whiteness to oppress decay by Black bodies. Voices that pass over teeth are then rendered exclusively white. Thus, dentistry is a collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity that are substantiated by racist ideas.

    [for the inspiration of the final sentence, see Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish on Orwell, highlighted here on WEIT : https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2021/06/05/sullivan-on-orwell-on-language/ ]

  8. A couple of weeks ago, a young female Black Lives Matter activist was shot in the head at a London party and remains in a serious critical condition. Claims that she was targeted for her activism, which were promoted by a black-led political party, Taking the Initiative party (TTIP) that she co-founded, were denied by the police. TTIP tried to deny reports that the people behind the shooting were black, saying that it had “multiple sources present at the incident who have confirmed to us that the attackers were all wearing balaclavas” and that it was “disgusted by the way that this narrative has been portrayed as a ‘Black on Black crime’ and a ‘gang crime,’ not acknowledging that this is a hate crime or a targeted attack at worst”.

    Needless to say, when the prime suspect appeared in court charged with conspiracy to murder he wasn’t a white supremacist. The Guardian covered the story in its early days, but has gone very quiet since the arrests (four other men were released under investigation) and is one of the very few news outlets here not to have found the space/time to report that on 7 June the victim’s mother and the police appealed for witnesses, as none of the thirty party guests (presumably including the TTIP’s “multiple sources”) had come forward.

    Call me a cynic, but it would seem that black lives only matter to The Grauniad and the TTIP when the perpetrators are white. (I wrote to the paper pointing out the lack of recent reporting but it didn’t publish my letter.) The paper’s Wokeism is manifested not only in the nonsense that it prints, but also in the news stories it suppresses.

  9. Patel had the makings of a good argument to blow up the idea of cultural appropriation, showing that even something as American as apple pie has roots elsewhere, but he drew the wrong conclusion.

  10. The Guardian is aimed at a British audience, many of whom probably don’t know things that Americans would consider to be common knowledge. “Nothing new” doesn’t necessarily apply to British people.

    That being said, the article was drearily predictable and it looks like it was poorly researched. For example, to check the claim that apple pie was derived from an English pumpkin pie recipe, I followed his link and I really don’t think it says that, although the time line does work.

    1. The Guardian increasingly seems to be aimed at a global readership, especially in the US, New Zealand and Australia, I think?

  11. Also that looks like one of those crappy lard crusts from a grocery store pie that feels and tastes like a mouthful of sand when you bite it. Should be butter or nothing.

  12. As we have already seen fashionably bombastic statements on behalf of English Lit Justice, Genome Wide Association Study Justice, Bird-Watching Justice, Musical Notation Justice, and Classics Major Justice, the arrival of Food Justice on the scene is no surprise. Mr. Patel’s gem will soon be required reading at university Departments of Nutrition, while anyone making light of it will be subjected to administrative action by the DEI Committee and the Dean’s office.

  13. The article is better than it appears at first, and is brought down by the clickbait hook of the title and opening. It cobbles together a freestyle, associative riff on what goes wrong in food production. What it says does not seem wrong. The message is just murky, other than that food workers were and often are most exploited. Everyone (probably) knows this. Farm and meat-factory work is hard, poorly paid and often done by immigrants, seasonal workers and such.

    The article drums on the unoriginality of “American” Pie, but still gets the history wrong in a way that can be shown with Wikipedia. Of course, as soon as people had apples and knew to bake, they came up with apple pies. We can safely assume that such recipes existed everywhere in Europe for centuries, and we have documentation from a handful of places where someone as early as the Middle Ages wrote it down.

  14. I was dressed down not too long ago by a coworker because my pasta with a tomato basil sauce (make it myself from scratch ingredients) as I was appropriating Italian culture. Really. I didn’t explain the varied origins of pasta, nor the back and forth that has happened with cuisine throughout history (as I am not very knowledgeable about these things), and I avoided saying anything about the tea she was holding, but did ask if, as an American of Italian heritage, pasta and tomato basil sauces were in the family menu. The affirmative response led me to point out that tomatoes are not native to Italy, but were appropriated by the Spanish during the conquest of the Aztec.

    That coworker no longer talks to me. I am not complaining.

    Articles like Patel’s completely, maybe intentionally, miss the reality that there is little, and really never has been much, unsullied “native cuisine”.

    1. I’m now retired and, therefore, no longer have co-workers. However, I would relish the day someone challenged me on something like that. It would be so satisfying to let them have it by explaining that practically nothing is really new. I will just have to enjoy it vicariously.

      1. And even if it were something truly new or the exclusive invention of some culture, it would still be pure madness to demand that no one from another culture can make it or use it or develop it in a different way—or just do whatever they well please with it, for heaven’s sake.

    2. At one workplace, we were having a farewell lunch at a Fijian Indian restaurant, and one of my Indian co-workers looked at their menu and claimed it was not authentic because there was Chicken Korma on the menu and Korma can only be made with lamb. When I pointed that that chicken is used in Korma throughout the world, he got offended that I claimed to know more about his culture than him. (I didn’t, I claimed that Korma is more varied than his cultural experience of it), though thankfully no harm came of it and we remained on good terms.

      I think the language of appropriation lends itself to abuse because the cases where there’s legitimate grievances are quite specific and highly contextual, whereas the language is more universal in application. So misuse from well-meaning people is inevitable. My partner and I joke about it all the time precisely because the language of it is absurd with any knowledge of the history of food or the transmission of culture. I think it’s important, though, not to lose sight of why people care about this, as culture matters and food is an integral part of that.

  15. A lot of very savvy comments here, but no-one seems to be reflecting on the elephant in the room, namely the non existent “traditional english pumpkin pie”. I could whip you up some native yams in the form of black bryony. Not sure you’d last long.

  16. I’m working o two related articles:
    1. Why bagels are symbols of Zionist settler colonialism.

    2. Why pizza is inherently pedophilic — and also racist.

    1. “1. Why bagels are symbols of Zionist settler colonialism.”

      I am 100% certain that this has been done with at least one Jewish-related food, and 100% certain that it will be done again, and 99% certain that it will eventually happen with bagels.

      And I’ve never even seen one of those articles. I’m not even going to search for them. I just know that some “anti-racist” has thought of this before, so it must be out there. The only questions are whether it’s been in a major publication yet, and when it will be (either for the first time or again).

  17. Grania is still missed here to this day. She was great.

    I’m 99.9% sure that there’s no afterlife (nobody can be 100% sure as, like gods, it can’t be disproved and logic therefore dictates it must be considered possible), but on the off chance that there is, I hope Grania is smiling to herself and playing her favorite video games “up there.”

  18. I wonder if Mr. Patel will similarly hold forth on any culinary aspects of the Indian caste system.

  19. Linking innocuous food to white supremacy is nothing new. I remember following a course on the history of food that said part of the counter culture in the 60s was to link white bread to white supremacy.

    If it wasn’t race, it would be class. There’s plenty throughout history where what one ate was a social marker of one’s status. You could write similar articles where you replace race with class and the same point would be made.

  20. If you’re reading The (stupid) Guardian PCC (E.), you’re really into the hard stuff. You’re mainlining the purest woke crazy that’s out there. I know a good doctor….

    Now if you’ll excuuuuse me, I have a piece of apple pie to eat b/c I’m a racist, colonialist, white supremacist bastard.


  21. A few years back #TrollingTheGaurdian was a thing on twitter. But how can you troll Guardian headlines when real ones are like

    “I stopped going to the gym because of Trump. Now I can’t open jars.”

    Google it if you don’t believe me.

    1. That was a weird article – and strangest of all, she’s Australian and as far as I can see the whole narrative took place there!

  22. If apple pie is racist, I’m Adolf f***ing Hitler!!

    PS I’m highly amused by the satirical absurdity of an Indian writing about racism lol

Leave a Reply