Racism: It’s What’s for Dinner on First Dates

[Content Notice for Eating Disorders]

When I say that racism is everywhere, I can almost feel the response welling up in naysayers. Racism enablers and denialists seem to think that those of us who point out racism are Oprah, handing out a racism to everyone and everything. “You get a racism! And you get a racism! And you get a racism! Everybody gets a racism!”

Oprah smiling and pointing outward, caption reads "This is racist. That is racist. That is racist. Everything is racist."

Calling out racism is more along the lines of the image. We’re not hunting for racism any more than we are hunting for sexism. Instead, we’re seeing it where you might not realize it exists.

Like, for example, in articles about what not to order on a first date.

It was an xoJane article about shamelessly eating in front of a romantic partner that brought my attention to the fact that is such a thing as an article about what not to order on a first date. While some of the Google search results yield republishings, there are at least 2 dozen discrete pieces on the matter within the first 4 pages of the search results.

That’s a lot of words dedicated to the idea that there is food that you can’t eat when going for that initial wooing.

I thought it might be enjoyable in a silly way to aggregate the lists and have fun with them somehow as I did back in February with lists of fashion that all men allegedly hate. It stopped being fun when nearly every single piece included something that was xenophobic, if not downright racist.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make a good first impression. I personally avoid food that involves a lot of knife-and-fork work on first dates because I feel very clumsy wielding them. Unless you are up for that sort of adventure, anything to which you are unaccustomed is generally a bad choice for an anxiety-inducing first date. Messy foods are also not the best choice, certainly.

The problem is with the assumption that everyone is familiar with the same things — and that non-white things are automatically more unfamiliar and/or messy to everyone than “white” things.

Some selected gems.

I would never order something that involves chopsticks.

tacos make multitasking during a meal impossible. Your focus will be on keeping the taco together and not on charming her or keeping the discussion going.

always, ALWAYS steer clear of super spicy Indian food unless your bowels are rock solid.

[Ordering] Chicken Vindaloo [says] I am not interested in you, because I don’t care that I’ll spend the night on the toilet instead of on top of you. [how classy, two different “Indian food gives you diarrhea” jokes in one article]

While corn on the cob is something to be avoided for the aforementioned reasons, it’s even worse when you indulge in elote – the Mexican-style cob that’s slathered in mayo, rolled in cheese and covered with chili powder. A mere taste will result in a face fiesta from nose to chin. [emphasis mine]

Since your hands will be overflowing with taco; multitasking—i.e., playful discussion, handholding, pouring wine— during a date will be a messy, salsa-filled affair!

Anything that’s hard to pronounce

Fermented foods: Kimchi and fermented tofu and foods of that ilk are really acquired tastes … and smells. This is third-date material. Same goes for anything truly weird, like duck tongues — well any sort of tongue — offal, organs, etc.

Mexican, Indian, Szechuan, Thai food
What? This is nuts, you say. Whole categories of dining off limits? [yes, it is nuts]

First of all, you are using chopsticks, which can be awkward to use unless you are very familiar with them. [only people unfamiliar with them date?]

Tacos, Burritos, Fajitas
Save them for your drunchies [Mexican food is only for drunk people, apparently.]

The most xenophobia in a single article comes via eHarmony, which apparently taps into Fox News for guest writers (all emphasis is mine).

House Special Sushi Roll
News flash: Using foreign utensils to shove gigantic portions of raw fish into your mouth can, and likely will, cause a series of silent, very awkward first date moments.

Spicy Chicken Curry
Let’s save the spice and sweat for the bedroom, shall we? Chicken curry doesn’t work in anyone’s favor on a date — think Ben Stiller in “Along Came Polly” and you’ll understand why.

Burritos and Tacos
Your date doesn’t want to see a Mexican mess oozing out of your mouth and into your lap, so avoid the trip to Acapulco and opt for something more traditional.

The common thread through all this is the assumption that the people seeking dating advice are not Other in any way: unfamiliar with chopsticks, unaccustomed to spicy food, unable to navigate a taco or a burrito, comfortably nodding along with the assertion that all Indian cuisine causes explosive diarrhea.

Another day in the life of a person of color: I get Othered when I innocently quest for cheap lulz from dating articles.

Racism: It’s What’s for Dinner on First Dates

21 thoughts on “Racism: It’s What’s for Dinner on First Dates

  1. 1

    So aside from the racism these rules (and holy god is it everywhere) they are basically saying, don’t eat food that tastes good or has any spice. Also, apparently people going on dates have not yet mastered fine motor skills.

  2. 2

    Whatever happened to asking your date what kind of food they like, and going with that?

    A lot of those comments appear to be presupposing that someone would want to present as different from how they actually are. What happens if you start a relationship with someone who hates vindaloo, but it’s your favorite food? Nothing beats starting a relationship on a good foundation of lies!

  3. 3

    I’m also digging the implication that, as a white American, I’ve never been exposed to (let alone regularly eat) foods from different cultures.

    Honestly, of I were to ask someone out on a date and they wanted to try unfamiliar food, I’d consider that a huge bonus, regardless of the outcome.

  4. 5

    WTF? This set of ‘rules’ is unquestionably racist and xenophobic. This list also kills any/all foods I eat at restaurants: Indian, Thai/Lao, Ethiopian, Chinese, and my favorite vegetarian-friendly Mexican restaurant comprise all of the best vegetarian options for dining out here. The only people I know who would think the articles make any sense are my older, ardently racist, rural-dwelling conservative relatives. Gross.

  5. 6

    interesting also that advice against chopsticks tends to be about “you don’t know how to use them”, while advice against spaghetti tends to be “it’s a slurpy food”, when actually no it isn’t if you know how to use a fork and a spoon. (basically they’re both issues of not knowing how to eat a food properly, but it’s like the writers don’t even know that they don’t know how to eat spaghetti)

  6. 7

    “Anything that’s hard to pronounce”
    1)so non-fluent English speakers can’t go on English-speaking dates?
    2)conversely, English-only speakers can only eat english-named food (because let’s just say, North Dakotans can’t pronounce “kuchen” to save their lives, even if it is a local food)?

  7. Ed

    I think sushi is very easy to eat in a tidy way while paying attention to someone else. While we’re on the subject of sloppy food, what about a big hamburger? Impossible for me to eat without making a mess! Steaks are distracting because of all the cutting necessary.

  8. 9

    Oy. It’s amazing, or not, how racist advice is also really bad advice.

    Of course these kinds of articles, racist or not, are practically destined to give bad advice, as good advice that’s broadly applicable wouldn’t come close to filling out a full article.

  9. 11

    This is so totally crazy. Here in the SE Texas area there are two completely different Mexican cuisine traditions, neither of which have very good representation outside this area. Enchiladas are pure Tex-Mex, but you will seldom get the variety we have here outside of Texas. And then there’s the Taqueria tradition straight from Mexico. Do you even know what a Torta is? And caldo is pretty much French stew.

  10. 13

    Good post — those tips are really gross in a way that probably slips under the radar of most people’s racism detection. Using food to other is surprisingly common and maybe related to the fact that people might think of food as “apolitical”. Another example on the same vein is the exaggerated disgust at some items that are considered “off limits” in the white western diet (eg. the offal example in the post). It’s acceptable to express enough disgust to portray that you don’t consider it as food or to imply that the people eating it are deviant (or even subhuman).

    Which is a huge problem given that some of these foods would solve a lot of problems in nutrition, health and food security and it’s only the prejudices that are holding western societies back (ie. insects).

    Of course, if are first date tips then they’re describing a type of dating that’s a lot more traditional-gender-roles-based than most readers of this blog would be into — so even the place they’re coming from is not immune to criticism.

    (Sorry about formatting, for some reason my line breaks are getting swallowed up.)

  11. 14

    Being Mexican-American, I have no problem with chiles. Curries, on the other hand…..

    I once dated a Canadian. She had no problem with curries, but found Mexican food very hot. Depends on what you are used to, I suppose.

  12. 15

    Spouse and I had no real issues on our dates.

    Spouse – Japanese, myself – Caucasian.

    One main quibble, when I’d ask for chopsticks at an Asian restaurant, they’d give Spouse the chopsticks an me the fork (I’m actually quite good with chopsticks).

    I keep joking with Spouse that I’m being racially profiled.

  13. 16

    OT of the racism:
    A couple months ago, I might have agreed with some of the advice about spicy foods – tears, snot being all sorts of unsexy.

    But I just went to an Ethopian place for my first date in forever – we both ordered the same dishes (were intending to order different and share but we wanted the same stuff), and one of them was ridiculously spicy (and as an added humiliation, it had the consistency and appearance reminiscent of baby food – being brought to tears by a very innocuous looking food is extra funny).

    Bonding over the shared experience of a hilariously spicy meal can be a great first date. Honestly, if the speed bump of “holy shit that burns” is enough to derail a date, the two of you probably weren’t going to go anywhere.

    On topic: Racism is like the Force, it’s invisible and binds us all together. It’s there, even if you don’t realize it.

    …if I wanted to take this stupid analogy further I’d posit that POC are force sensitives?

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