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November 12, 2020 7:13 am

The Food Network and Food Community’s Sickening Tolerance of Antisemitism

avatar by Simon Butler


Alton Brown. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

In the wake of celebrity foodie Alton Brown’s tweets this week that offensively referenced the Holocaust, one thing seems to have been ignored that suggests a larger problem has raised its ugly head: antisemitism in the culinary arena.

Given the relative quiet from personalities in the food industry following Brown’s Twitter outburst, it’s likely that this issue isn’t solely relegated to one person.

Some background: At 7:48 pm on Tuesday, November 10, Brown — host of the Food Network’s Good Eats and a sometime guest on the cable channel’s show Chopped — tweeted the following message: “Do you think the the [sic] camp uniforms will be striped, like the ones at Auschwitz or will plaid be in vogue?” Additionally, in response to another individual’s tweet, Brown tweeted “I have no gold fillings,” a clear reference to the fillings stolen by the Nazis from the bodies of murdered Jews during the Holocaust.

Naturally, many individuals on the platform, Jewish and otherwise, condemned Brown’s words. The evening passed, and at 11:16 am the next day, Brown tweeted an apology: “I apologize for the flippant reference I made to the Holocaust in my tweet last night. It was not a reference I made for humorous effect but rather to reflect how deeply frightened I am for our country. It was a very poor use of judgement and in poor taste.” Meanwhile, the Auschwitz tweet had been deleted. Some accounts tweeted messages of forgiveness. Some didn’t.

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Most apparent, however, was the silence from the food community. There was no uproar from the majority of chefs and restaurateurs. There even was support for Brown’s apology, as if that were enough to repair the hurt and cruelty spurred by his insensitivity.

The fact is, it’s not enough. The casual embrace of the Holocaust as a way to describe current events is highly offensive, as it minimizes the extermination of 11 million people killed during the Holocaust — including six million Jews. Yet it’s even more troubling when a “blue-check” Twitter account disseminates such antisemitic sophistry to 4.5 million devoted followers, as Brown did. Influencers who spread these ideas perpetuate, unwittingly or not, Jew hatred. Brown should know much, much better.

So should the food world, which may be one of the last industries to be scrutinized for such behavior. Awareness of the rampant misogyny, racism, and homophobia in the sector is thankfully growing, and although there’s much work to be done on this front, these concerns at least have become talking points. But when it comes to antisemitism, this issue gets swept under the rug like crumbs. One rarely hears about this insidious type of prejudice infecting restaurants or cooking shows. Brown’s recent comments reveal that this conversation should be brought to light.

It’s not clear what, if any, action Food Network will take to put out this flame. At press time, the “fillings” tweet was still up on his feed. If Brown truly is sorry about his behavior, he should take the time to learn about the Holocaust and why it’s so important to remember what happened — how literal millions were killed, and how so many more were affected. Perhaps a visit to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website could be a very first step.

One thing is for sure: Antisemitism isn’t going to exit the culinary arena if it’s not immediately addressed. Otherwise, we’ll continue to see more personalities demonstrate such ignorance, and that’s unpalatable anywhere.

Simon Hardy Butler is a writer and editor living in New York City. During his career, he has written for publications ranging from Zagat to Adweek. His views and opinions are his own.

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