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The Schmooze

The New Falafel Emoji Is…Not Good.

It is an ongoing debate among US leaders — should the United States be the world’s policemen?

And so, too, we find ourselves wondering — should the Forward be the emoji Jew-ish food police people?

We find ourselves at it again, obligated to observe that the new designs for the falafel emoji look like soot-covered tennis balls, iced sloppily with phlegm.

Just as the bagel emoji strangely transgressed the idea of anything a bagel has ever been or aspired to be, the falafel emoji seem to fly in the face of edible, or even recognizable, food products.

The Unicode Consortium, a shadowy, male-dominated organization that churns out the library of images you can find on a tab on your smartphone keyboard, released on Tuesday the final list of emojis that will be put out in 2019. The collection comprises 230 emojis — 59 of which are new, the rest of which are new editions of preexisting emojis — from a drop of blood, to the exceedingly rotund, garishly-colored “falafel.”

The origins of falafel are complex and controversial. Stanford professor Shaul Stampfer, an expert on food history (including falafel) at Hebrew University, writes that falafel is a much newer food than most people imagine, dating back only to around the 1930s in pre-Israel Palestine and Beirut. Both Israelis and Palestinians claim it as a native dish, leading to accusations of appropriation.

But both peoples, it is fair to say, rarely serve bowls of the fried chickpea balls solo. Falafel is usually served in sandwiches or in platters heaped with salad and hummus, not alone, sliced into half-spheres, topped with stringy lines of tehina, as the emoji shows.

It’s telling of the massive influx and popularity of Middle Eastern cuisine (think: hummus galore) that falafel is now being represented in cartoon form alongside hamburgers and french fries. But something about the sickly green, the same shade as Nickelodeon slime, shot through with what looks like bacteria, shaped into perfect spheres and topped with trickling beige goop in an orange bowl, is the opposite of mouthwatering.

The falafel emoji will appear differently on different platforms. Here a designer pursues a hyperrealistic version of 2-day-old falafel:

If the Emoji Consortium plans to step it up and solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (or at least encourage people to use the new hummus emoji), they’ll have to get some real balls.

Jenny Singer is the deputy life/features editor for the Forward. You can reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny

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