Do Cookbooks Get Boycotts Too?

Do Cookbooks Get Boycotts Too?

Lauren Masur
Jun 21, 2018
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)

Last week when Gabrielle Hamilton and Ashley Merriman, of celebrated NYC restaurant Prune, announced that they were going to swoop in to "save" Ken Friedman's The Spotted Pig, people recoiled. It has been only seven months since Friedman's toxic culture of sexual abuse at the Spotted Pig was revealed publicly, and just as people boycotted the Pig, now there are calls to boycott Prune over disappointment in Hamilton's betrayal.

Prune, Spotted Pig, Batali's Babbo, Lupa and beyond: In the wake of #metoo, the decision for restaurants owned by toxic, abusive chefs has been swift and decisive: Boycotts all around. Which is easy to do, especially if you don't live in New York anyway.

But many of these chefs have entered our homes in a more intimate way through their books and recipes. Should we boycott our beloved copy of Gabrielle Hamilton's Prune or the countless cookbooks that bear an emboldened "Batali" on their covers, spines, and forewords? Is it possible to cook a recipe without it serving as an edible reminder of the gross failings of the person who created it?

In the wake of #metoo, what happens to your cookbooks?

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)

We reached out to some of the people who love cookbooks the most — people who compile them, review them, sell them, and cook out of them every day — to hear how they're treating books from abusive chefs to try to figure out the right thing to do with ours.

Get rid of them.

"I've amassed a pile of books and movies to give away, and I've started adding cookbooks to the heap," says Geraldine DeRuiter, a prominent voice in the food world's #TimesUp movement. The writer, perhaps most well-known for penning a personal essay about baking the infamous cinnamon roll recipe glaringly featured at the bottom of Mario Batali's apology newsletter, says the answer might just be to donate the books.

"Can we evaluate the creation separately from the person who created it? This is a question that I've been asking myself a lot as I try to figure out what exactly to do with the work of abusive men," DeRuiter explains. If you know you will never be able to separate food from the chef that created it, this is the simplest answer.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)

Hide them!

But for others, cookbooks serve as important points of reference and getting rid of them isn't the answer. "At work, we need the vast majority of cookbooks that we have for reference, so I never want to get rid of anything," says Joe Yonan, the food and dining editor at The Washington Post and author of America The Great Cookbook.

Yonan has first-hand experience with the aftermath of featuring Mario Batali in his cookbook. Just weeks after Costco requested a special slipcover for his America The Great Cookbook featuring Batali's image (as well as those of a dozen other contributors), the bad news broke. It was too late to reprint. "I have wondered whether that affected sales at Costco or if people who bought that version of the book just took the slipcover off. Thankfully inside, he represents just a couple pages among hundreds," Yonan says.

To avoid having a constant reminder of certain chefs' indiscretions, Yonan has taken matters into his own hands. "There are books that I keep close to me on my nightstand or in my kitchen and actively cook out of, but more and more these days, I feel inclined to move certain titles down to my basement."

"I will confess to setting a little fire in my bathtub."

Prominent New York City bookstore, Strand, takes this approach as well. "If we were a bookstore that sold things by people who never did anything wrong, there would be a total of four books on the shelf," says Leigh Altshuler, Strand's Director of Communications. "We make sure that if a book is on display and something negative comes out about the author, that we remove it. If you want to come in and look for it and we happen to have it in stock, that's fine. But we are not going to go out of our way by any chance to promote it."

However, there are times when this quiet retirement of books just isn't enough. "I will confess," Yonan told us, "to setting a little fire in my bathtub a few years ago, which consisted of books by a certain Southern celebrity chef who became known for her use of the n-word."

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)

Alter the recipes.

Here's one more subversive way to reclaim recipes that you'd almost rather never make again: Take them back. DeRuiter finds that "if we remove these recipes from the context of the chef, or the cookbook, and if we make changes to them, they have the potential to become something different. Recipes are made to be adapted, and we can take ownership over them."

And next time? Make a difference with your dollars.

The most effective action you can take has nothing to do with boycotting certain cookbooks and everything to do with focusing your attention on the resistance, says cookbook critic Paula Forbes of Stained Page News, a weekly cookbook newsletter. "I'm not sure getting rid of a cookbook purchased years ago will have much impact beyond exorcising some demons from your bookshelf."

Instead, we should focus more on where we spend on money in the future. Forbes says that "the real work — making the restaurant world safer for women — lies elsewhere. Buy cookbooks written by women, people of color, immigrants. Research the restaurants you patronize, and support those actively battling sexual harassment in the workplace. Donate money to local organizations working against domestic violence."

Taking action beyond the page is the recipe for change.

What are you doing with the cookbooks of chefs you no longer support?

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