The Chip on Alison Roman's Shoulder
Before I read Lauren Collin’s excellent profile of Alison Roman in the Dec 20th New Yorker (“Kitchen Confessional”), I had not paid much attention to the fix that the recipe-writer, influencer, and big mouth got herself into. I noticed her recipes disappeared from the NYT Cooking site and I gathered that something she said about two women of Asian descent annoyed a lot of people. In a period already replete with Karens, yet another signal involving a racially insensitive person was lost in the noise of a pandemic, an insurrection, and a deadlocked Congress.
Now that I’ve read Collins’s profile, I can’t help noticing that this woman, who is not yet forty, persists in sticking her foot in her mouth. I now understand what the original complaint was about. Roman threw shade on two women, one Japanese, the other Thai-American, who made a lot of money in business. Marie Kondo commodified her tidying system. Chrissy Teigen licensed a product line at Target. Oblivious to the scarcity of non-white women with their level of visibility and financial power, Roman cast them as sell-outs in a market crowded with recipe-writers and cooks. Furthermore, seemingly indifferent to subtle erasures of culinary cultures, Roman tosses off ideas for recipes without nodding in the direction of the sources of her flavor combinations. Her notorious recipe for #TheStew may or may not actually meet the definition of a curry, but it took familiarity with the flavor profiles of South Asia to conceive the recipe.
The problem with Alison Roman is not that she’s politically incorrect. It’s that she’s insensitive and unkind, which I think we can all agree are less preferable character traits than their opposites, regardless of how trite kindness and sensitivity have come to seem. Borderline-elderly and unhip as I am, I long ago decided that in nine times out of ten behavior characterized as ‘politically incorrect’ is simply unkind and insensitive. Roman’s snotty, brassy, fuck-you attitude appeals to those who insist on their right to be rude to people who historically have suffered from erasure and social exclusion.
But, sad to say, I confess Roman’s racism is not what prompted me to raise here the issue of her unkindness, as sympathetic as I am to the criticisms of her. Instead, what drew me further into Collins’s piece was Roman’s comment about cookbooks.
“I think cookbooks can be very lonely books.” She explained, “It’s generally just a person with a plate of food.”
The whole point of this newsletter is to assert that savoring the food you cook for yourself alone is healthy. Not all of the 36 million single householders in the US ‘with a plate of food’ are sad sacks. Her comment suggests more about her own inner life than that of people who often eat alone.
And so, the valorization of communal eating and its implied opposite is a subject I intend to take up at greater length in a future post.