I just want to open this post by saying that I love hotdish. It’s not a part of my heritage, really, being a tiny bit lapsed Catholic via some sperm and a whole lot lapsed who-knows-what Protestant by way of an egg, but I honestly adore it. Hotdish, or casserole to those of you not from the Midwest, is basically some sort of carb bound by some sort of dairy with an additional brothlike liquid and probably some meat in. Lasagna is a hotdish, if you get down to it. Hotdish is what you take to potlucks and picnics, funerals and football games.
Amy Klobuchar has a hotdish recipe, have you heard? In an attempt to prove that HELLO FELLOW KIDS she is one of us, she’s shared it. It actually sounds pretty good. I’d eat it. (Don’t judge me, only Batman can judge me.) But the way it’s written is deeply deeply rooted in a very specific kind of thoughtless white supremacy, so thanks, Amy, for the opportunity to take this moment to unpack your recipe as an editor and not a cook.
The recipe reads:
1-1.5 lbs ground beef
1 can cream of mushroom
1 can cream of chicken
A couple cloves of garlic
8-12 oz. shredded pepper jack cheese
1 package of tater tots
1 small onion
Brown the ground beef, then drain off the fat. Saute the onions and garlic. In a large bowl, mix together beef, onions, garlic, both cans of soup, salt, and pepper. Spread evenly into the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish. Cover with about 1/2 the shredded cheese, then place tater tots in one layer over the entire pan. Bake at 450 for 30 minutes or until tater tots are crisp. Cover with remaining cheese and back until cheese melts.
I’m not saying that this recipe isn’t adequate for me to follow. But I am saying that it’s only adequate for me because I had a white grandma and have made hotdish before.
And that’s how white supremacy works. Subtly.
Let’s examine it. What do you think of when you think “an onion?” Is it red? yellow? white? Is it, god forbid, green? Who you are and what your background is will determine your default onion, and Amy hasn’t considered for a moment that someone else’s picture of “onion” might not match hers. (If you want to make this, it’s either yellow or white)
Same with “can.” How much is in a can? I pictured a 12-oz. Campbell’s soup can, because I am literally the target audience. Did you? Or did you picture a family-size can? Or a short can? How much is “a package” of tater tots, if you don’t shop at the same store for the same brand that Amy’s mom did?
Yes, it’s hotdish. Yes, these measurements are somewhat flexible. But they’re not that flexible. If you get a big old serves-12 can of soup, because that’s what your family always had, you are going to make a gloopy mess instead of a nice firm hotdish that can be kind of cut and spooned out.
“Saute the onions and garlic.” Do you cut them up first? How finely? How hot? With oil? Again, this is making assumptions about who you are and how your family prepares food. (I would personally dice them fine and saute in butter over medium high heat with the salt and pepper until translucent. But I have friends who primarily cut onion in rings and eat it raw.) This is going to be one hell of a different dish if you use red onions cut in rings, or white onions cut not at all, or if you caramelize the onions.
But I’m not convinced Amy cares about that. She hasn’t taken the time to consider that other people might make other assumptions about how to do this prep. And in her rush to convince me she’s “one of us” and “just folks” she’s convinced me all right. She’s convinced me that she doesn’t have enough empathy to realize that other people’s families aren’t like hers. She’s told me who her “just folks” and “us” are.
And that concerns me.
I’m an editor. I can’t stop seeing things like this. I see it in stories. I see it in articles. And I see it in recipes. This is probably delicious, but it’s coming from a very sour place, and one I don’t care to inhabit anymore.