Wednesday, August 04, 2010

In which I'm an old bagel-stick-in-the-mud

I was reading David Lebovitz's food blog when something jumped out at me:

Many purists kvetch that one should not even toast a bagel, that they should be eaten fresh, when they're toothy and a bit tough. But with all the dough in some of those bagels, unless you do the Jewish American Princess dough-dig (pulling out the bread, so you're just left with the crust, reducing the calories), something passing as a bagel can be just another roll-with-a-hole.
I'm well aware of the de-doughification procedure he describes, but what's with the gratuitous attribution of that low-carb trend onto Jewish women, who are no more guilty than any other women living in bagel-having areas (which I can attest include Austrian Starbuckses and the Helsinki airport) of this culinary quirk? And why drop a slur like it's nothing? Because that's what "JAP" is - a slur. If a Jewish woman chooses to reclaim the word - and I'd be happy to see it reclaimed - and to use it to describe herself, so be it. But given the history of the word, if David Lebovitz is indeed Jewish (not making any assumptions), the use of the term by a Jewish man hardly makes it less offensive. It's a slur not against Jews or women, but Jewish women in particular.* And I'm not sure if I'd give Lebovitz that much word-play credit, but "dough-dig" when used in reference to "JAPs" is a not-so-pleasant double entendre.

I commented something along these lines, provoking another commenter, Hillaryn, to ask me to "lighten up." To this I must ask - how's about a "faggy" salad? (Think where one could go with fried chicken!) Bigotry is bigotry, and while I don't think Lebovitz meant to offend, what he wrote was uncalled-for. Sometimes such things need pointing out. If we're talking about some kind of equal-opportunity-offensive humor like South Park or Sarah Silverman, it's another story and yes, a "lighten up" might be merited, but this is a food blog. It's about context. And it's about context from both sides - I'm not calling the ADL on him (as if they're of much use these days, which is another story.)

In terms of telling-it-like-it-is (which is overrated, which is yet another story), if we're going to celebrate Lebovitz's refreshing honesty, then I should say now that I grew up Jewish and on the Upper East Side of all places, a mere flagel's-toss from Lebovitz's new favorite bagel shop, so I think I'd know if it were objectively true that this was something particularly done by "JAPs". I truly don't think it is, and might mention that the only person I knew growing up who did this was of English and Italian heritage and not remotely Jewish. But you know what? I could be wrong. A survey could be conducted, and we might find that Jewish women are overrepresented among those bagel consumers who remove the doughy part. Even then, I think the "JAP" comment was uncalled-for.

*Very, very occasionally, I've heard JAP used, by Jews, in a gender-neutral sense. In which case it really does seem to be about a subculture and aesthetic, rather than about how Jewish men are these saints, whereas Jewish women are status whores, no wonder Jewish men "have to" marry out, etc., etc.


Daniel Moore said...

Not to mention that it isn't even true that digging out the bagel dough is a primarily female act. Most of the older generation of males in my family gut their bagels in order to leave more room for lox and other goodies that they fill in.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Oh right, that - mentioned it in my comment there but not in this post. It's true that men dig bagels, but I think given the disparity in social pressure towards women and men regarding weight, it would be a fair assumption that women do so more often. At least that's been my impression from bagel shops, although you could be onto something re: at-home lox assembly.

The more I think about it, what really gets to me is the "dough-dig" double entendre, as in, Jewish American Princesses as gold-diggers. (Redundant?) I was slightly surprised that of all the many comments there this morning, there's no other reference to the slur, just a lot of sycophantic excitement and the occasional affirmation of it being somehow cute and insidery to reference JAPs before a general audience. And it's like no! no! JAP the term and JAP the concept when used in that way have done immense harm to American Jewish women over the years, and and anyone who uses it unapologetically as Lebovitz did deserves the Imus treatment. (Because the comments are fairly analogous.) But while I like his food blog most of the time, I'm not a food blogger myself or otherwise looking to win his favor, so I guess I must stand alone on this one.