Josh Glancy

Supermarket bagels are an insult to 2,000 years of Jewish pain

Forget debates about Oppenheimer, the real cultural appropriation is happening in grocery chains


Variety of Authentic New York style bagels with seeds in a paper bag

August 02, 2023 13:05

I’ve never been particularly keen on Jewish gatekeeping. I have no problem with Helen Mirren playing Golda Meir, nor Cillian Murphy becoming the destroyer of worlds Robert Oppenheimer. I think Orthodox Jewish conversion rules are probably a bit too strict and we should let more people join the tribe without having to spend two centuries bent over the Talmud in some forgotten yeshivah. I believe everyone should be free to enjoy the solemn moanings of Leonard Cohen, study kabbalah (as long as they are over 45) and get off on the literary pyrotechnics of Philip Roth. And these rules should apply to other cultures too, so I in turn should be allowed to blast Jamaican dancehall (a weakness of mine) and mispronounce various Sichuan food delicacies (another susceptibility). Share and share alike.

But there is a line, of course. All cultures must have a line. Every man must have a code. And outside Waterloo station, the line has been crossed. “New York Bakery Company” blares the billboard, trumpeting the “Authentic New York Style Bagel”. Sorry, but absolutely not.

Have you ever tried one of these abominations? They sell them in all the major supermarkets, at least the ones where Jews don’t often shop: Tesco, Asda, somewhere called Morrison’s which is apparently also a thing. They call themselves bagels, in the same way that I occasionally call myself a writer, when really I’m a newspaper hack. But they are not bagels. They are a bland, claggy, soggy disgrace, barely even worthy of the label bread roll. Someone should report this mob to the Advertising Standards Authority.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the real cultural appropriation taking place in our society today. Forget Jewface. Forget those funny Christians who do Passover seders because they secretly wish they were Jewish. Forget even the Black Eyed Peas randomly shouting “mazel tov” in the middle of I’ve Got A Feeling. These people are taking the bagel, precious symbol of our culinary heritage, embodiment of Jewish resilience, cement of the diaspora, circlet of eternal semitic sustenance, the rock upon which Golders Green High Road is built, the crown of Carmelli’s, the disc of Daniel’s, scourge of digestive systems from Pinner to Prestwich, and they are murdering it.

And they are doing so in our name. Everyone knows what they mean when they say “New York bagels”. They mean Jewish bagels. They’re besmirching the reputation of one the few bona fide Ashkenazi culinary achievements. Because let’s be honest, we Ashkenazim get pretty mixed reviews for our food, the gefilte fish — sadly maligned — and cholent — tragically niche — but the bagel is universally adored, an icon of Jewish supremacy. We should trademark it. They shouldn’t be allowed to even call these things bagels, the same way Sunny Delight doesn’t call its chemical syrup orange juice. Instead, Sunny D used to have to call itself “orange-flavoured citrus punch”.

To my mind, these faux-bagels should have to call themselves “bagel-shaped bread buns”, to avoid being confused with the real thing.

“Our Bagels are the real deal,” the New York Bakery Company’s advertising guff insists. “Boiled then stone baked to bring you a true taste of NYC.” Stone baked my kishkes. As a former resident of Jewtropolis, let me tell you for free if you tried to serve one of these porous baps to a real New Yorker you’d be laughed out of Russ & Daughters before you had the chance to say “lox and schmear”. They’re about as New York as the Grand Canyon.

It’s true that the typical “New York” bagel is larger and fluffier and chubbier than its sibling, the Montreal-style bagel. And certainly less chewy on the inside than your classic London bagel (don’t say beigel, it’s not 1970). But they are still recognisably a bagel, not a round piece of bread with a hole in it. They have the compactness, the density that somehow packs 2,000 years of pained exilic history into every bite. You know it when you eat it.

I don’t want to just single out this one company. Warburton’s approximation of a bagel is even worse, basically a hate crime. And I dare you to try putting cream cheese and smoked salmon on Sainsbury’s own brand “bagel”; it’s like drinking Château Lafite from a mug.

Perhaps, you might argue, I should be welcoming the mass adoption of Jewish foodstuffs. Perhaps this a sign of our successful assimilation into Western society and blah blah blah. No. Absolutely not. This is where we draw the line. Right here. Bagels or bust. Our very civilisation depends on it.

August 02, 2023 13:05

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