I woke up this morning in a panic—oh dear lord, I owe $109,000 on a library card. I wiped the sweat from my brow, looked out the window and slowly relaxed as I realized that my debt was—obviously—the nightmare of someone who has some unresolved issues with book lending institutions that we don't have to get into right now. And yet still, something uncomfortable lingered. Why was there a knot in my stomach and this subtle dread oozing in? I reached for my phone and remembered: Oh, Alison, why?!?!
Last Thursday, an interview with cookbook author Alison Roman in The New Consumer was published and, over the weekend, exploded the foodisphere. Roman made some out-of-nowhere cutting remarks about fellow foodie Chrissy Teigen (as well as Marie Kondo), which, no matter which way you sous vide it, don't look good:
“Like, what Chrissy Teigen has done is so crazy to me. She had a successful cookbook. And then it was like: Boom, line at Target. Boom, now she has an Instagram page that has over a million followers where it’s just, like, people running a content farm for her. That horrifies me and it’s not something that I ever want to do. I don’t aspire to that. But like, who’s laughing now? Because she’s making a ton of [expletive] money.”
As women and food publication Cherry Bombe poignantly captioned on Instagram, not only is it problematic to see “Women calling other women sell-outs and bitches for their hard-earned accomplishments,” but, like my weird library card dream, it cuts deeper: White women taking down successful women of color in an industry where they are drastically underrepresented is systemically wrong.
Teigen's response to the piece on Twitter was heartbreaking—not only was she a fan of Roman, following her ascent and buying her books, but it looked as if their careers would indefinitely cross at some point in some characteristically charming and goofy video where they made some sort of decadent sizzling chicken as John Legend, Chrissy's doting husband, crooned an impromptu theme song in the background.
Roman issued an apology to Teigen and poked fun of herself about “baby's first internet backlash,” and yet, on Monday morning, it was all my friends and I could talk about. I get why Teigen is upset, but why can't we get over this? For us, Roman was everything. Her recipes eschewed the world of keto and always-be-dieting. She was young but experienced enough to speak with authority on The New York Times of all places. Here was this approachable, self-made woman in a bright red lip with cool flatware who actually acknowledged chicken schmaltz. She's a Brooklyn millennial who knows what's good about the past (see: tinned fish) but isn't afraid to change or update recipes to her own desires.
I know that seems trivial, but watching a millennial—a generation that's been branded into submission as lazy and entitled—exude such confidence and be so strong-minded and unapologetic in her own kitchen always left me with this freeing feeling—not only do we not need to eat dry lettuce for every meal, but we also don't have to do things just because they've historically been done that way. Peel your ginger? “You can peel it if you want, but you can't make me,” Roman declares in yet another tiny kitchen revolt.
Roman was Ina Garten reborn into a realistically aspirational 30-something. She's not a 2D fantasy of curated images on her Instagram grid. If we bought anchovies and some cool high-waisted jeans, we could all be Alison Roman! And her attitude on cooking not only invites you to play around, but she teaches you to be fearless with your food—if you like more garlic, add it. Yes, her food is approachable, but it's not talking down to you in the slightest. In fact, it's asking you to try a little harder. Feed yourself the good stuff.
So, why do Roman's comments hurt so much? Because in the wake of a global pandemic, Roman was the one good thing to come out of it. Not only was she in the kitchens of Brooklyn but on stoves in middle America. It proves that even our quarantine comforts are ripe with anxiety. Nowhere is safe; everything is cancelled.
Do I think Roman will find her way out of this debacle? Yes, and I hope so. What cancel culture gets wrong is that we can grow and we can learn from things. It also forgets how hard it is to be catapulted into fame. If we loved Roman because she's so human, we should be able to forgive her, too.
But as we wait for the next hard-hitting foodie gossip drama to hit, tonight calls for eating our feelings. The Stew, anyone?