Pot Luck

Ethnic and Geopolitical Culinary Stereotypes as Expressed Through Google; Or, Why Do White People Eat Breakfast?

The interesting thing about Google is that we ask it the kind of deeply intimate questions that we would never ask another human being, even a friend or loved one. Embarrassing questions; compromising questions; dark questions; questions that reveal our own hidden insecurities and prejudices.

It also reveals a certain hive mind tendency. Type in the very beginning of a question and you may find that Google automatically completes exactly the question you were rushing to ask. "Why are Russians so good...at chess?" How did you know I was going to finish that question with "at chess," Google?

But for each of these harmless, silly auto-completes, there are always several more that are tacky at best and downright ugly at the worst. "Why are Indians so smelly?" "Why are Irish people alcoholics?"

A vast web of stereotypes laid bare, courtesy of Google and its clever habit of transforming millions of users' search histories into one giant artificial intelligence capable of finishing your question before you can.

Of course, nearly every ethnicity, race, gender or country of origin you type into the Google search box results in the auto-complete question "Why are __________ so rude?" (Instinctive, sometimes insurmountable xenophobia pretty much always leads us to believe that every other culture is somehow ruder than our own.) It's nevertheless interesting to see what culinary stereotypes the average Google user carries with them, no matter how off-base or potentially offensive they are.

I started by typing in the most basic culinary stereotypes I could think. "Why do Germans eat..." "Why do Mexicans eat..." Sauerkraut and beans were the first items to come up in Google's search results.

And then I got really curious. You could substitute any country's demonym for "Germans" or "Mexicans." You could substitute any race, ethnicity, gender, age or even socioeconomic status, for that matter. The Google hive mind would have a culinary stereotype for them all.

I started with just continents, taking screen shots all along the way.

As briefly touched upon in this week's post on cooking the Easter bunny, there is a surfeit of interest in North America over other cultures eating meats that we don't personally consider food, such as cats, dogs or even -- as with the case of Africans and Australians -- elephant and kangaroo. We might not want to eat those things ourselves, but we're sure as hell keen to know why others do.

And then I moved on to countries.

And it continued across the rest of the world, too.

But, as previously mentioned, no group goes free from scrutiny. What about Jews or blacks or fat people or poor people? Doesn't the Internet have disparaging things to say about their diets, too?

Of course it does.

Interestingly, sometimes the exact same question is asked about diametrically opposed groups of people:

Yeah, why do all these skinny/fat people eat so goddamned much?!

Religion and race, too, drew their own share of stereotypes from the Google hive mind.

But no examination of stereotypes would be complete without a little ageism and sexism, right?

Even hippies, who aren't even culturally relevant anymore, aren't exempt from our culinary stereotypes.

Shit, the only people eating granola these days are yuppies and bobos, which just goes to show: Stereotypes don't always exist for a reason.

Now if we could only get that message across to the rest of the Internet...

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Katharine Shilcutt