Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A treatise on cupcakes and identity politics

I went to school in Europe for a year, and the most important thing I learned while I was there is that Europeans hate it when Americans claim to be other nationalities. You know the thing we do, where a moderate helping of Gallic ancestry makes you "French," or, say, that a smattering of Scottish blood obviously means you are descended—loosely, of course—from Rob Roy.

My family says we are.
I learned this the hard way, by making a similar statement to a new Scottish acquaintance and having her look at me like she'd suddenly discovered gum under the doorknob.
Later, I reflected on all of the different histories and cultures I so casually claimed based on my muttish family line, and I felt terrible. It was undeniably arrogant, self-serving, and simplistic—and it was so well-meant. I think such a collection of traits reveal this tendency to be an American one, more strongly than any flag or inappropriately-timed tennis shoe ever could. Not to mention, the casual assumption that blood is more important than any other marker of identity...but it's not like that's ever gotten us in trouble or anything, right?

So okay, I meant for this to be light-hearted. Because today is St. Patrick's Day, a day where it's okay for literally anyone to claim to be "Irish," if being Irish consists solely of getting drunk and wearing mismatched green clothing. But it DOESN'T. There's a hugely long, complex history to that part of the world and my having an Irish grandmother doesn't confer me the right to make light of a tragic part of that history by doing shots named after a type of terrorism.

St. Patrick's Day is probably the most egregious example of Americans usurping an identity as an excuse to get shitfaced, and was rightly condemned by the Europeans I met who a) don't seem to need an excuse to get shitfaced and b) don't really know about Cinco de Mayo.

But...I have a hard time feeling completely bad about Americans' desire to see themselves in other cultures and societies, when the alternative seems to be the isolationism and exceptionalism that has defined so much of our relationship with the world. Obviously we aren't going about it the right way but maybe let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater here. Maybe this is just an opportunity waiting to be harnessed by better education, faster internet, and a growing sense that nationalities don't matter when the whole world is oppressed by the rich.

And so, the point. Over the weekend Stephanie and I made Irish Carbomb cupcakes, a less-curdled version of the famous cocktail, and I posit that these are the way to have our cake and eat it too, in both the literal and ethical sense.

The recipe is an unabashed hybrid, pulling the frosting from here, and the ganache from here, and using a boxed cake mix because Stephanie has FEELINGS about that, but they taste good and they mean well, and they aren't really hurting anyone, even if maybe some kale would be better for us. Tomorrow we'll eat kale. Tomorrow, we'll be better. Today, we'll just be "Irish."

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