First, they came up with roasted red pepper hummus, and I didn’t say anything because hey, roasted red pepper in hummus isn’t that crazy.
Then, they came up with taco-inspired hummus, and I didn’t say anything because I thought, well, they’re both dips and this makes some sense.
Next, they came up with spinach and artichoke hummus and I didn’t say anything because I figured there must be some people out there who enjoy this sort of thing.
And finally, when they came up with chocolate hummus, I had no more energy to complain.
If the allusion to Martin Niemoller’s haunting poem offends you, forgive me. In my defense, I can only say that I view hummus not as a paste but as a profession of faith. I grew up attending the church of the holy massabacha (look it up), eating pita as sacrament, tasting the warm chickpeas and feeling grateful for God’s love. So when I read that Boar’s Head—Boar’s Head!—had released a dark chocolate hummus dip, I didn’t really know how to feel.
On the one hand, I am a firm believer that food binds us all, and that, like religion, it’s best when it transcends the boundaries of lived experiences and inspires new connections and new ways of taking a bite out of the world. I scoff at those ninnies who cry cultural appropriation whenever a dish is enjoyed by others, and welcome rich and strange food fusions whenever I find them.
On the other hand, we’re talking chocolate hummus here.
It didn’t particularly help that the company producing said dip is best known for large slabs of ham, or that, on its website, it announces that its latest offering is available at the nearest “delicatessen,” as if it weren’t a corporation but a character from All-of-a-Kind Family. Still, I’m a brave soul, so I sauntered over to the nearest supermarket—it’s 2018—and picked up a pack.
Reader, it was delicious. Like a rich, thick, chocolate pudding, perfect for sweetening some fruit or gladdening a dry biscuit. But it was no hummus.
I’m sorry, but the distinction matters. If we want our cross-cultural excursions to mean anything, in the kitchen and beyond, we must acknowledge the existence of boundaries before we cross them. To say “hey, in my culture we whip up artichoke and spinach with cream, which would kind of go neatly with your mashed chickpea thing” is to approach matters boldly but respectfully, as two distinct cultures seeking to build bridges should do. To say “hey, let’s make a pudding and call it hummus because hummus is kind of trendy right now” is to exert the tyranny of marketing on a product that has little or no relation to the real thing. It’s just in bad taste.
Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One.