For many Forward readers, the answer to the question of whether I should have written about Ivanka Trump’s kosher broccoli kugel recipe was a resounding “No.” Responses came in by email, Facebook and comments to the recipe we posted, which, it turned out, she had taken from Jamie Geller’s website.
I’ve read it all — from “The woman is not worthy of our attention” to “Why in the world would I ever support anything that comes from a ‘good Jew’ who plays nice with anti-Semites?” to the notion that I’m “normalizing fascism.” I appreciate and understand the negative sentiments.
I’m also very interested in exploring this situation as a way of trying to understand how, as journalists, we — and in particular, those of us working on features sections such as food, rather than news — should cover the incoming first family. This dialogue among the readers; between the readers and the Forward; and between the readers and me, encapsulates precisely the quandary of covering the Trumps.
If I had to sum up the gestalt of my professional life as a food journalist, it is “food as connector” — the idea that sharing recipes and meals and traditions breaks boundaries of nationality, culture, religion and politics.
And now I’ve found the logical end to where food succeeds in doing that. It’s with the Trumps. Which compels me to ask: At what point does this family stop dividing us? Judging from #kugelgate, not at the point of kugel.
For the sake of argument, say I chose to ignore the entire kosher Kushners thing. Would they go away? I suspect food will be coming out of that kitchen whether I cover it or not.
Ivanka Trump is the most high-profile and powerful Jewish woman in the United States. As food editor of the Forward, I look at everything going on in the world through a Jewish food lens to see if it is relevant and of interest to our audience. Subjects can be relevant and distasteful at the same time.
More people clicked on that kugel recipe than almost anything we’ve published on the food pages. The other most widely read stories were also controversial: The Dark Side of Kosher Wine. So, What’s Wrong With Mixing Milk and Meat? Conservative Movement Overturns 800-Year-Old Passover Ban on Rice and Legumes. Many people are highly opposed to the ideas in these articles, but they are interested nonetheless.
It’s notable how many readers were curious enough to click, and heartening to see how vibrant the ensuing conversation became. Conversation, even heated, is a kind of connection. Encouraging it is the opposite of normalizing fascism. In airing feelings about the Forward’s decision to print this recipe, people were able to vent not only about my frivolous or fascist–leaning post (depending on whom you talk to), but also about the new first family and the role of the press. Within that dialogue I read fear, anger, derision, disgust and a multitude of suggestions and ideas for dealing with our coverage of the Trump family.
I appreciate the feedback and look forward to more thought-provoking journalistic situations to chew on in the future.
Liza Schoenfein is food editor of the Forward. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter, @LifeDeathDinner