'Indian food is terrible and we pretend it isn't': US professor's tweet sparks debate, criticism

A tweet by a United States academic on Sunday (Nov 24) – “Indian food is terrible and we pretend it isn’t” – has sparked an online debate about whether it is racist to express one’s gastronomical preferences.

International affairs professor Tom Nichols, who teaches at the US Naval War College in Rhode Island, was responding to another Twitter user’s request for “controversial food opinions”.

The academic has since spent the last two days fending off the criticisms – sometimes in jest but often serious – of other Twitter users.

“You are the Donald J Trump of food,” wrote one commenter, linking the professor with the US president whose immigration policies, such as the forced separation of more than 1,500 children from their parents along the US-Mexico border in 2018, have been condemned in some quarters as intolerant.

More pointed criticisms include a Twitter user who said “Indian food” as a category did not exist, given its regional variations and diversity, and another who said Prof Nichols was dismissing the culinary habits of more than a billion Indians.

Padma Lakshmi, the host of US cooking programme Top Chef and author Salmon Rushdie’s ex-wife, was unimpressed with Prof Nichols’s tweet. She said on Twitter: “Do you not have taste buds?”

Still, some netizens said “Indian food” in Europe and the US was not reflective of how Indian food actually tastes anyway, since they are often given a Western twist to be more amenable to European and American taste buds.

Prof Nichols later admitted that he had only eaten at Indian restaurants in the US and Britain.

Some netizens were more sympathetic to Prof Nichols’ position, however. Twitter user Sonia Gupta said those who liked Indian food were not necessarily more culturally tolerant.

“It’s the same feeling I had as a kid when white women would fawn over my mum’s beautiful saris while also talking to her as if she was a child,” she wrote, arguing that cultural fetishisation can often be quite different from real cultural understanding.

“You like our trappings, but you don’t like us,” she added.

Another group of Twitter users maintained that food was just food, and Prof Nichols’ statement was not unlike someone saying they did not like okra – also known as ladies’ fingers. “We don’t have to love every part of every culture to peacefully coexist,” one Twitter user wrote.

On his end, Prof Nichols said there is only a slim possibility that his distaste for Indian food will change, writing in a later tweet: “I am told by people (that) I respect that I can be brought around to this but I am still deeply mistrustful that this is possible.”

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