If you love reading food blogs like I do (come on y’all, we all do it), you’ve probably noticed the widespread popularity of hummus recipes in the last several years. It started with recipes that looked similar to what I ate growing up, cooked chick peas blended with garlic, lemon, and other staples. But then shit got weird. Recipes for “roasted red pepper hummus” and “black bean hummus” started popping up everywhere. I even saw recipes that for adding chocolate or peanut butter, and I had never seen anything so bizarre. I wanted to sit down and explain to these white women that what they were making was not hummus. If you swap out the chick peas for pinto beans or add peanut butter (???), then you’ve just come up with your own creation that bears no resemblance to the Arab classic.
These hummus recipes represent a phenomenon I see over and over again, where white people take traditional foods from communities of color, change them until they’re unrecognizable, and still call them by the original dish’s name. I often hear jokes about how white people’s cooking is flavorless and unseasoned, and these jests get at the real ways racism manifests through food and cooking. White people have exotified hummus, while simultaneously branding it as an all-purpose, green goddess, make-your-food-instantly-healthy ingredient. Places like PCC and Trader Joe’s have caught on to this trend and started profiting hugely off of their expensive, watered-down “hummus” creations. I wish they would least call things by their proper name. If you replace the chickpeas with eggplant, then you’re really making mutabbal, and if you want to add red pepper then you should really just make muhammara.
Food, like clothing and customs, can be culturally appropriated. They want our recipes without the fat. They want to feel cool, ethnic, and healthy without the discomfort of Arabic words stumbling over their tongues. They want to hand-pick pieces of our culture without having to think about Anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia or the occupation of Palestine.
To white women: I’m not asking you to not eat hummus. I’m not asking you to stop experimenting with recipes or doing what you need to do to feel good and whole in your bodies. I actually think black beans pureed with jalapenos, cumin, and garlic sounds delicious. But it’s not hummus, ok? So please don’t act like you’re making some authentic Arab dish. And also, instead of shopping at Trader Joe’s, support your local Arab-run restaurants and stores, like Goodies in Lake City, Café Turko in Fremont, and Café Munir in Ballard.
Anyway I’m going to go eat some manakaesh, inshallah.