About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Strewth Ruth
Strewth: Australian slang meaning amazement, exclamation or mild oath.

Sometimes I wonder just how far we've all come as human beings. The other day I stumbled upon this sad example of human thought, in Gourmet magazine of all places. The writer is reflecting upon the September issue that featured Hispanic cooking.

'Dedicating the entire September issue to Hispanic cooking, in light of the enormous damage illegal immigration is causing this country, is quite inexcusable. To seemingly glorify the efforts of those who are violating our laws and placing a severe burden on American society is, simply put, quite wrong.'

What are you going to say to that?

Well, I kind of like this, from the 1976 movie, Network.

'You've got to say, 'I'm a HUMAN BEING, Goddamnit! My life has VALUE!' So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, 'I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!'

As to the author of the letter, what can you say? It speaks of a lifetime of prejudice, nothing short of a full blown epiphany will change that, but what on earth possessed Ruth Reichl, the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, to publish such racist drivel as that? Has she no idea exactly how offensive it is? That the writer is just plain wrong on so many different levels?

Well, I'm mad as hell and this is what I yelled at her from my window.

'...This form of racism is based on an ideology of national culture in which minority cultures are regarded as alien and a threat to social cohesion. It consists of pervasive cultural assumptions where the customs and beliefs of the dominant group in society are presented as the norm. As a result, the status and behaviour of minority groups, particularly those who are more visibly different, are defined and judged with respect to the dominant group...'

Racism, No Way: Understanding racism.

Dear Ruth

I don't know what you were thinking when you published that racist letter attacking Hispanics, in regard to your September edition of Gourmet. By including it, you gave succour and oxygen to a racist, who now probably believes that Gourmet supports him. It was just laziness to include it with the other letters, when you could have alerted us by mentioning that you had been receiving this type of mail, if you wished to represent all the views of your readers and made it plain that these views have no place anywhere. Many countries have laws against publishing racist material and this letter certainly qualifies as that. Your own ancestors would have counselled you against the course you have taken, in which Gourmet now looks ambiguous on the question of racism, despite devoting an issue to ethnic cuisine. Racism can be very subtle and hard to spot, that's part of its insidiousness and I'm sure you felt like you did the right thing, but it wasn't. I forgave you when you messed with The Last Touch, but you made it to rights, I only hope you can do the same here.

I can sort of imagine her reply already, something along the lines of..."it's in the public interest that we reflect all the views of our readers and it's important to have a dialogue about this." I can't and won't cop that; I'm sure Ruth is aware that a bit of controversy is good for magazine sales, but to hurt people in the process, people I know, leaves me with a very bad taste in my mouth, Dr Seuss would be spinning in his grave. Just to repeat, the letter was racist and offensive. It has nothing in common with the values of this august magazine and ultimately it's demeaning to Gourmet to have such a letter anywhere on its pages.

Ruth, I have one piece of advice for you, one piece only, never, ever, publish racist material, you hurt and alienate people and you risk being tainted by it.

Cover, Latin American Cooking - Time-Life, Foods of the World. Looking good, with all the different coloured peppers.

Well, now that's off my chest, all of a sudden I'm hungry and feel that some Hispanic food would hit the spot exactly right. Hmm, I'm so hungry, I could eat Hispanic food for a month, in fact I could eat food from anywhere in the world, wherever people feel the stamp of racism. Would you like a seat at the table? Sit yourself right down, but don't forget to bring a plate. If you've ever been touched by racism or know someone who has, show your support in the battle against it, by posting an ethnic recipe or sharing a story or picture. If you would like to send a message to Gourmet, post an Hispanic recipe. Link to this post, mention Strewth Ruth somewhere in your post and send me an email. I will do a round up in a month's time.

Racism is a destructive and persistent evil that brings only harm. Sadly it is often a misinformed response to economic hardship. Rather than solving economic problems, however, racism fuels the fire of suffering by intimidating its victims and corrupting its perpetrators. Racial prejudice is a corrosive influence attacking the most fundamental values of Australian society - our commitment to justice, egalitarianism and a 'fair go' for all. Hon. Justice Marcus Einfeld, 1997.
  posted at 11:52 am

At 10:06 am, Blogger Kalyn Denny said...

Nice job! I was also sad they printed the letter. But sadly, shocking content does sell magazines.

At 12:23 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Neil. I also saw this mentioned on Mattbites's site and was horrified. But I'm in two minds about whether Gourmet should have published the revolting reader's letter or not.

I understand your position absolutely - but perhaps it is worth these things sometimes being public so that we are reminded of the hate which lurks among us (as hurtful as it is to see it in public). I've known individuals who (and lived in countries where a portion of the population) harbour/s closed-minded repugnant attitudes and these bubble along under the surface, unchecked, because other people either assume their own open-minded values are the norm, or because society condones, sotto voce, the existence of such nastiness.

Publication or no, it's a lose/lose situation. Some people gain strength from concealed hate, others from vocalised hate. But we can hope some were ashamed into reexamining their views when seeing such a foul viewpoint expressed in, of all places, a food mag.

At 2:04 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi kalyn, the things that are done in the name of commerce.

Hi duncan, you raise a very good point about publication, as it could be considered that I'm no better than Gourmet. The difference is that when Gourmet published it without comment or challenge, that letter gained legitimacy as a readers honest view, legitimacy it just doesn't deserve and I chided Ruth on that very point. This silence means it could also be infered that the letter might accord with the editors' opinion about Hispanics too. On the other hand, when I've published it, I've also condemned it at the same time.

There are also other reasons why it shouldn't be published, apparently Gourmet recieved a number of such letters and some called to cancel subscriptions. Now I'm not there, but it sounds like there is a lot of built up tensions across the board, a letter like that can act as a flash point; I can still remember the English race riots in the 80's that seemed to start from nowhere.

At 5:37 pm, Blogger Katie Zeller said...

Such letters can have a place in newspapers or magazines that are willing to devote the time and space in upcoming issues for the vigerous debate they will inspire...I don't see a food mag as having a willingness or a postition to do this. And, yes, only printing one viewpoint is a shameful endorsement! In other words: bad job editing!
As someone who has not lived in the U.S. for over 10 years I am appalled at the subtle racism I see when I go back for visits. I don't remember it being like that when I lived there... either 'they've' changed or I have.
What time's dinner?

At 5:46 pm, Blogger Serenity Later said...

Silly me for believing food to be the great equaliser and unifier. Seriously what is wrong with people in that country. To have such blind hatred for races/cultures/groups/humanity that they feel the need to broadcast their bile (to a food magazine for goodness sake!) is, without question, appaling.

I am absolutely against censorship in the print media but in this case i totally agree with you that the editor made an extremely poor choice in printing this piece of rubbish. She's basically legitimised this abhorent viewpoint making people think its acceptable to hold these beliefs, and disseminate them to the outside world. I think i just might be joining the (hopefully) chorus of people outraged by this letter and send one myself too. Thanks for bringing it to attention of the food blogger community.

Nothing gets my hackles up more than hearing people dismiss certain types of food, but as a wog chick, that danger triples when they go around deriding food of a particular culture! Not happy Ruth (or clueless bigots writing those damn letters)!!!

At 6:51 pm, Blogger Ed Charles said...

But should we censor people just because they are racist. It may be offensive and I denounce that but shouldn't everybody have the right to free speech and to air their opinions? If we stop this kind o comment we simply create an artifical little idealistic world that doesn't really exist and these mags do enough of this already. they always talk about the good, especially in Australia, but never really portray the reality of recipes that go wrong and that there is nastiness out there.

At 8:15 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh this is so difficult. Advocating the censorship of someone's repugnant expression of an opinion is so fraught with danger (and dangerous historical precedent). Neil, you say "that letter gained legitimacy as a readers honest view, legitimacy it just doesn't deserve", but that reader's opinion (and clearly shared by others) *is* honest, just repugnant to us. Gourmet would have had trouble responding to it in a way which didn't attract a whole pile of other criticism (except, perhaps, the briefest "We disagree.").

If you suppress the stuff, you get the same sort of things that happened after Pauline Hanson made her ignorant maiden speech... out of the woodwork they came...

It's often better to know your ideological foe than to be unaware of their presence nearby, isn't it?

At 9:44 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi katiez, I think you nailed it, what does a food magazine have to do with these sorts of issues? It appears it maybe you that has changed.

Hi serenity later, food ought to be a unifier and I just don't understand Ruth's actions for so many reasons. It is important you write to her and let her know your position.

Hi ed, with your journalistic background, I know free speech is your sacred canon. However with words like holocaust, ethnic cleansing, Bosnia and Rwanda, history has shown where unfettered and unchecked propogation of racist views leads. The question is, do we protect people's rights to free speech, or do we protect people? In this country, we already have anti-vilification laws and I don't remember anyone ever protesting them. I see the reporting of nasty, stupid people every day in the press and I'm not against that, what I don't what to see or hear are their views, their actions already speak loud enough.

Hi duncan, do you really think those sorts of views are honest? Where you see honesty, I see agenda. We'll always know where they are, as I said to ed, their actions speak for them. You know which of your mates are racist or not.

At 10:16 am, Blogger Ed said...

Neil, the trouble is when you ban one thing it leads to another... perhaps views on communism, a political party Pauline hanson or John Howard (which I wouldn't mind). but by exposing themselves at least you know who to avoid and watch out for. The last thing you want to do is drive it underground and ferment.

At 11:28 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi ed, my question still stands, do we protect people's right to free speech, or do we protect people?

At 3:04 pm, Blogger Ed Charles said...

People are protected thanks to free speech. Without it anything can happen. Think Burma.

At 4:48 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Free speech is such a sticky concept, but I guess I have to say that yes, by permitting people to express their (love it or loathe it) opinion we open them up for dialogue, criticism or at least identification. By suppressing that we would encourage greater paranoid private groupings, with other, often less desirable outcomes. The detestable letter from the Gourmet reader is not villifying, though it is repugnant and factually incorrect.

A reverse example: in 2000(?) Austrians voted in largeish numbers for the Bündnis Zukunft Österreich, led by Jörg Haider. The result was a coalition government which included this far-right nationalist party. In Britain, centre-left politicians (and people with strong liberal opinions) clamoured for the expulsion of Austria from the EU - an attitude entirely contrary to the democratic liberal principles they otherwise promoted. Imagine the possible outcomes if they had had their way.

At 6:31 pm, Blogger paul kennedy said...

A letters editor's primary task is to publish a selection of letters that is proportionate to the variety of views received. Not doing this is tantamount to censorship, not editing.

A shame, perhaps; but there it is.

At 7:38 am, Blogger Laurie said...


At 3:42 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi ed, not in this case. This was an attack against Hispanics...thanks to free speech. Burma is a competely different situation. It is a terrifying totalitarian regime repressing all its people, seeking to ban all speech, to protect those in power, which has nothing in common with racism, nor is it the first slippery step. As I said before, Australia already has anti-vilifaction laws and I haven't seen men goose stepping in long black boots anywhere.

Hi duncan, you think that letter isn't vilifying, Hispanics damaging American society? Dictionary time. I think the ghosts of Auswitch are a bit closer to Europeans than us; by threatening expulsion, it isn't taking away from Austria's right to elect whomever, or to say whatever they want it's asking them to have a good look at themselves, which was no paricular hardship. Look at the bans Australia and the rest of the world put on Sth Africa to put pressure on them for similar reasons; was anyone here complaining then?

Hi kitchen hand, aside from the fact Gourmet is a food magazine and racist letters are way off topic and nothing to do with the magazine is and what it stands for, which ought to be reason enough, my earlier point was that to publish without comment was to give this letter and any like it, legitimacy. I could have worn publication if there was some editorial denouncing them. Also consider, if the letter is vilifying, and I believe it is, then it would be against Australian laws to publish it here.

Hi laurie, thank you.

At 6:09 pm, Blogger paul kennedy said...

Neil, some magazines (and newspapers, of course) have a policy of printing letters received and then publishing - in the next issue - other readers' letters scathing of the offensive one, a kind of democracy of opinion in which the original writer's opinion is held up to ridicule. Interesting to see what the magazine in question will do.

At 11:01 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neil, we'll have to disagree about what constitutes vilification, as your dictionary and mine differ (no need for the "dictionary time"). It also illustrates why anti-vilification laws are difficult and controversial things, even if our fundamental values are probably quite similar. I strongly hope that Gourmet does promptly publish a fulsome sample of reaction (including yours) against the offensive letter. (And then, unfortunately, somewhere else that we'd prefer not to know about, a very different group of people will be outraged at our lack of comprehension and will accuse us of vilifying them. [not intended sarcastically])

At 12:46 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi kitchen hand , that wouldn't be a bad thing for publicity, no? It's just the sense they used that letter for their own ends that riles me. Oh yes, I'm waiting...

Hi duncan, I was also refering to myself. Before writing that, I did check the dictionary, it would appear that our word strength meters are set to different levels, but then words are such slippery eels. Even though our views on free speech are different, your wish for Gourmet accords with mine.

At 5:28 pm, Blogger MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

I thought I left a comment on this one twice before but I must have not checked to see I got the right verification copied.
I'd like to think that if a discussion can take place, it's the best opportunity we have to begin to change the way people think. I agree that behavior speaks loudly but it is coming from the way people think. Maybe over time, we can begin to change the way people think partly with discussion.

At 7:58 am, Blogger Gigi said...

I read this a few days ago and was so disturbed I hesitated to even comment. It's an incendiary topic; free speech.

I read the LA Times daily and am moved to the point of apoplexy on occasion by the idiocy, ignorance and sometimes even misogyny and racism of my fellow human beings, as expressed on 'Letters to the Editor' page. My husband calls it The Daily Rant.

But as often as not, for every rant the following day(s) bring the opposing and correct viewpoint (mine) and the certain knowledge that not everyone is an ignorant dolt, and that those who are will be left open to the ridicule of their peers. The editors publish letters without comment. I don't believe that the printing gives the viewpoint particular legitimacy; it's often the opposite of the expressed views of the editor. It simply indicates that opposing views exist, and here's one. Judge it's validity for yourself.

I'm such a fan of Reichl's, I can only imagine that she believes that by publishing this letter without comment she is exposing this toxic creature to the light. As shocking as it is, (and it took my breath away) I believe she is saying that it's important to know that these people are out there and like all creatures that thrive in dark corners, exposure to the light is our best defense against their silent propagation.

At 8:40 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi tanna, sadly, I don't think we can ever wipe out racism and perhaps you're right, discussions like these help to show folk there is a better way.

Hi gigi, it sure was a tough topic to comment on and I appreciate everyone who left a message. The thing that struck me most was that this sort of letter's natural home would be a newspaper, it just seemed so off topic for a food magazine, which made me think, why did they publish it? Too many people who's opinions I respect, like you (Ed & Duncan too), have talked about the free speech aspect, enough for me to have to think the issues through again. However, I will use an anology to illustrate how I'm thinking. Back in the seventies and eighties, streaking was fairly common at some large public events, eventually it was decided not to show the streakers on television and it virtually died away. Publicity was the oxygen. I think racists get the same kick out of having there views published and don't care one whit for any opposing views that are published later, it's like their view got in first, but unlike streaking, people are left hurt by it, not just people, but society as well. We are all the poorer for it.

At 9:01 am, Blogger Ed said...

It's become an interesting debate and the answer probably is in the middle ground. Neil if you became PM what would you do about Andrew Bolt?

At 9:47 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi ed, so I have your vote then? First, I'd be off overseas on a, ahem, fact finding mission regarding restaurant standards worldwide, then when I got back, there would be an enquiry into who gave the Herald Sun permission to use words in the first place.

At 11:06 pm, Blogger Serenity Later said...

Hi Neil, Just wondering whether you happened to catch Media Watch this evening? They had a story on whether or not forum moderators on an ABC website should have stopped a particularly vilifying comment appearing on a news forum. It made me instantly think about this post.

At 1:02 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi serenity later, I would have loved to have seen that. Can you tell me what the upshot was?

At 1:38 pm, Blogger Serenity Later said...

No problem Neil. The gist of it was that someone posted a comment denigrating gay people for some reason or other. Given that this was posted on the website of the public broadcaster, it raised the question of whether or not the moderators should've been more vigilant about allowing such a post to appear lest it triggered a flurry of similar posts by likeminded folk.

They've updated the media watch website to include this weeks content. Apologies for not knowing how to post links in comments but here's the url:

I would think that out on the internet anything goes where opinions are concerned. Still i found the media watch story to be an interesting parallel to your post.

At 3:42 am, Blogger Alejandra Ramos said...

Hi Neil,

My name is Alejandra and I'm a food blogger from NY. I'm not sure if you've read it yet, but the latest issue of Gourmet magazine (the August issue), contains another hurtful and offensive letter to the editor towards Hispanics and other minorities. I wrote an open letter to the editors of Gourmet on my blog in response to this, and while doing a bit of research to see whether or not this had happened before, I came across your 2007 post on the subject. I'm trying to get the word out about this as Gourmet really has no excuse for doing this again and it's important that people who disagree with their actions have the opportunity to let them know about this. If you feel the same, I'd love it if you could share this with your readers. http://www.alwaysorderdessert.com/2009/07/open-letter-to-editors-of-gourmet.html

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