Unless you were smart enough to mute the phrase “unpopular food opinion” on Twitter this week, your timeline was an exploded septic tank of people’s bad takes about food. As is the cycle of most memes, early responses may have started out innocently enough—“I think the orange rind tastes good” or “Pizza crusts are the worst part of the slice”—before devolving into unfathomable ignorance. The poster boy for the latter category was a man named Tom Nichols’ “all Indian food is bad” tweet, a take so reductive, dismissive, and mistaken that it made headlines from New York to Delhi.
Rather than slinking away quietly with his proverbial tail between his legs, Nichols, an author, has since doubled down on his catering-hall-unseasoned-chicken-breast-lunch-plate of a take. In an op-ed for USA Today (a finger wag to you, too, USA Today, for giving this man the microphone), he bemoans what he perceives as outrage culture and continues again and again to prove that he has entirely missed his critics’ points.
Rational people pointed out that his tweet oversimplified Indian food, a broad umbrella that includes nuanced, varied regional cuisines with myriad ingredients, spices, and dishes. His response? Don’t worry, some of his best friends are Black: “Other well-meaning but misguided people listed dozens of dishes made in the many regions of India and suggested that if I tried them all I would see the light. I doubt it: I have been dragged along to numerous Indian restaurants in the United States, and I even went, on my own, to one of the top Indian restaurants in London on the recommendation of a friend and asked the waiter to guide me. I didn’t like any of it.”
Others, notably former Congressional candidate and Colorado resident Saira Rao, articulated the specific sting Nichols’ tweet delivered to Americans of Indian descent, who have long been told “that I smell weird, that my food smells weird and that Indians shit on the street which is why everything we are smells bad.”
This particular criticism is the most important one, and the one that sails over Nichols’ head at 30,000 feet. Tweeting not only that you don’t like Indian food but that no one else does either is inherently different from tweeting that you don’t like granola bars or chicken Parm or dirty Martinis. It’s a failure to realize that Indian people continue to experience discrimination and racism, and that a culture’s cuisine (particularly for South Asians) is part of “othering” them. Their food is often trotted out as Exhibit A that Indians are strange and unable to assimilate. Just look at what they eat!
Look, maybe Nichols didn’t initially realize how his tweet would come off. But he’s received criticism—plenty of it—and his op-ed proves he’s failed to listen to the voices of those most harmed by his words. The tweet was a joke, he explains. (Remember the golden rule: If you have to explain your joke, it’s not a good one.) His op-ed trivializes the harm inflicted by his tweet, wishing we could all just get back to our Thanksgiving turkey brining: “We used to care about more important things. Alas.” Indians and Americans of Indian descent have repeatedly told Nichols his tweet is a continuation of a harmful cultural stereotype that makes them feel less welcome in this country. What could be more important—especially during Thanksgiving week—than that?