People mostly love to use the internet to fight – a lot, about anything. This is particularly evident when it comes to fighting about food, with a seemingly endless flood of folks on social media arguing about everything from the relative merits of putting salt on watermelon to whether it’s appropriate to eat macaroni and cheese with a spoon.
Some arguments, though, are greater than others. These showdowns are grounded in cultural differences, steeped in history or even cause politicians to get their hackles up: the kind of disagreements that inspire breakups, family meltdowns and (potentially) cause nations to face off. Below are eight of the peak examples of culinary fisticuffs of our time, in no particular order. Oh, and don’t agree with the selections? Fight me.
Bean wars: Texas chili v the world
Texans, as a group, aren’t known to shy away from a good fight. And where their beloved chili is concerned, the entire population of the Lone Star state can agree: the spicy stew must be made without beans.
Texas is, after all, the birthplace of the dish, which was first served up by “Chili Queens” at stalls in San Antonio’s open-air markets during the Mexican-American war. This chili con carne soon became the stuff of heat-packed legend, and was brought to national prominence in the early 1960s thanks to a (bean-free) recipe from Lady Bird Johnson, which quickly was adopted – and, uh, adapted– in kitchens across the world.
So what’s the big deal about adding beans? For Texans, it’s seen as a bastardization of their heritage. And if you’re thinking about adding in funky ingredients beyond beans, like cinnamon and cardamom? Don’t even try to call it “Texas” chili.
“When [food writer Mark] Bittman advises amateur cooks to make chili with tofu or espresso, he is doing something worse than disrespecting the dish – he is suggesting that the names of foods can mean whatever the speaker wants them to mean,” Kriston Capps writes in a fiery Slate piece titled (what else?) Beans Do Not Belong in Chili. He continues: “Similarly, when Julia Moskin claims in the New York Times that Texans “do not have a lock on authenticity” when it comes to chili, she disregards the very history that brought it to prominence.” Yikes.
So, bean lovers, take heed: add those fiber-rich little nuggets to your chili – just don’t invite a Texan to dinner.
Cornbread: to sugar or not to sugar?
Cornbread is, without a doubt, a do-it-all staple of the American southern table, ready to soak up the delicious dregs from a red beans bowl or be buttered up all on its own as a biscuit-alternative. What isn’t so clear, though, is whether sugar belongs in cornbread.
African American southerners traditionally say yes, while white southerners usually prefer an unsweetened version.
In a thoughtful piece on the crumbly topic, North Carolina-based food writer Kathleen Purvis traces the great cornbread divide through the antebellum south, noting the ways in which discussions surrounding sugar-in-cornbread speak to a greater issue about cultural and culinary identity in the south.
“It is part of the larger discussion of whether or not you see southern culture from the perspective of the big house or the slave quarters,” the James Beard Award-winning author Michael Twitty notes in the piece. “We’re still having this argument 100 years later, but we’re using different vehicles to have it. Including cornbread.”
Scones wars: jam, cream and the 1,000-year scuffle
Jam first, then cream – or a spread of cream, then jam? When it comes to scones, the order in which a person should properly layer their jam and cream has been a point of heated regional debate in the UK for, according to some, upwards of 1,000 years.
In one corner there’s Cornwall, where a smear of jam hits the pastry, then clotted cream is plopped on top. In neighboring Devon, they swear it must be the other way around, with the jam serving as a colorful jewel atop a fluffy cloud of cream. The regional throwdown has caused such a ruckus for so long that everyone from a University of Sheffield mathematician (who swears by a highly specific 2.8cm-thick scone as a base) to Queen Elizabeth herself have weighed in on the correct scone preparation.
And while jam-on-the-bottom seems like a funky construction to me, if you want to do it the royal way, the queen is apparently that kind of gal.
What should go on a hot dog – and is it a sandwich?
Far and away, my favorite hot dog-adjacent fight is over whether or not ketchup belongs on the humble wiener. “There is no other condiment that defines identity the way ketchup does,” hot dog scholar Bill Savage told the Chicago Tribune in 2015. “Ketchup on your hot dog is the end of the world.”
And while it might not be the literal end of the world to squirt a little ketchup on your dog, Heinz did learn the hard way that trying to pull one over on Chicagoans by rebranding ketchup as “Chicago dog sauce” only results in a full-frontal social media assault.
In more recent hot dog hot takes, there seems to be a bottomless pit of people willing to get their digital dukes up over whether or not a hot dog is actually a sandwich. I find this debate snooze-worthy and agree with Mayukh Sen, who says in a piece for Munchies that he’s “perplexed as to how so many people have expended so much energy, continually, over the past few years deliberating this non-question.”
After all, it just seems like a waste of breath when you could be arguing over something truly meaningful, like the eternal philosophical question posed by Will Ferrell on Saturday Night Live, “If you were a hot dog, would you eat yourself?”
What country is the true home of hummus?
When it comes to food sovereignty, there’s no messier international battle than over hummus, with both Lebanon and Israel claiming the dish as the culinary touchstone of their national identity.
The highly publicized fight began in earnest in 2008, when the Lebanese Industrialists Association announced their intentions to sue Israel (really!) for marketing hummus as Israeli, claiming that the dish is, in fact, Lebanese. The move, in theory, would allow the country to carve a chunk out of the $177m hummus market, which Israel has pretty much cornered with international chickpea-lovers.
Lebanon continued their march towards dip notoriety by creating the largest plate of hummus on record in 2009 – weighing in at a whopping 4,532 pounds. “We want the whole world to know that hummus … [is] Lebanese, and by breaking [into] the Guinness Book of World Records, the world should know our cuisine, our culture,” Fadi Abboud, now minister of tourism for the country, proclaimed.
Did the fight stop there? Sadly, no. The Israeli town of Abu Gosh soon reclaimed the title of hummus-makers extraordinaire by serving up four tons of hummus in – no joke – a satellite dish. Not to be outdone or deterred, the Guinness Book title then ping-ponged back to Lebanon after they whipped up over 23,000 pounds of hummus, fueled by what I can only imagine was pure spite and not a burning passion for tahini.
What goes in guacamole?
For those mired in the thick of Online Food Media, summer 2015 will perhaps best be remembered for the peas-in-guac debacle: a Twitter-fed monster which, by the very end, seemed to take on a life of its own. During a harrowing few weeks, the internet collectively proceeded to have a five-alarm-meltdown over a single New York Times recipe which included the humble pea as an ingredient in guacamole. Insults were hurled. Relationships were wrecked. Think pieces abounded.
I know, I know. If you weren’t watching this vegetable-based madness as it ensued, you might be thinking: what fresh hell is this? It’s just one recipe! Why does it matter? Friend, I can’t begin to parse through that tangled psycho-social web, but it definitely mattered. I mean, even then-president Barack Obama weighed in. A sitting president! (These were much simpler times, you see.)
Fortunately, this particular avocado storm has passed, and we can return to other continuous gauc-centered issues, like whether tomatoes belong in everyone’s favorite Mexican avocado mash and bickering over chunky-versus-smooth preparation methods. Whew.
The great pavlova showdown
Australia and New Zealand love to squabble over, well, pretty much everything. At one point or another, both countries have staked their claim on (among a laundry list of oddities) the flat white and Russell Crowe.
The most continuous of all, though, is the debate over which country deserves the chest-swelling pride of having invented the pavlova: that airy, lithe meringue-meets-fruit dessert named after the beloved-in-her-day Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova.
Both countries believe that the dish’s first iteration was created on their turf when Ms Pavlova toured the southern hemisphere in 1926 – and the battle of wills has continued to rage for close to a century. It came to a head in 2009 when the then freshly elected New Zealand prime minister, John Key, accused Australia of (gasp!) culinary thievery.
“It’s totally ridiculous for Australians to claim that they have pavlova … or any iconic New Zealand items,” Key told the Australian Associated Press at the time. “Everyone knows that they’re ours and for Australia to claim ownership of them is quite inappropriate.”
Turns out? Both countries are probably wrong. In 2015, a pair of researchers – one New Zealander, one Australian, you know, for fairness sake – spent two years-worth of 18-hour days tracking through “20,000 newspapers and at least 10,000 cookbooks” to figure out which country is the true wellspring of the dessert. This level of dedication to the cause led to a shocking conclusion: the pavlova actually has German roots, and was perhaps even introduced to the two countries via an American cornstarch manufacturer.
Pizza and the divided states of America
When it comes to pizza in the United States, what isn’t there to fight about? There’s always going to be national hand-wringing over whether Chicago-style deep dish pizza actually qualifies for pie-status or is, as John Stewart once put it, “a f****** casserole”.
The public shaming for those who eat their pizza with a knife and fork – like New York Mayor Bill de Blasio – is also constantly ready to rise from the dead for a fresh round of internet scorn. But lately, the biggest throwdown has been over putting pineapple on your slice.
Call me a snob, but I truly believe pizza-focused food arguments – while prevalent! – are the lowest common denominator of culinary battle. Go fight over something more interesting, like feta.
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