The story so far: On Tuesday, The New York Times made available a lengthy profile
of hip-hop singer M.I.A., written by Lynn Hirschberg for the Sunday
magazine section. The piece took a fairly dim view of M.I.A. (known
offstage as Maya Arulpragasam), juxtaposing the singer's politically
incendiary lyrics with the luxe life she lives in private. One line of
Hirschberg's in particular was endlessly quoted: "'I kind of want to be an outsider,' she said, eating a truffle-flavored French fry."
Later in the week, M.I.A. took her revenge, tweeting Hirschberg's phone number and declaring, "NEWS IS AN OPINION! UNEDITED VERSION OF THE INTERVIEW WILL BE ON neetrecordings THIS MEMORIAL WEEKEND!!! >>>>" Bloggers couldn't decide whether to be charmed, mystified, or annoyed. "Is M.I.A. losing her effing mind?" wondered Hipster Runoff. "This seems like a bit of a petulant stunt," remarked The Awl. "It would be really awesome if Hirschberg retaliated by Tweeting M.I.A.'s number," mused Gawker, "but we have a feeling that there are still people out there with some tact." (For more reactions, see the Wire's coverage of the story.)
But wait! Robert Sietsema, food critic at The Village Voice, has identified the real scandal here, and it's not political posturing or bad blood between reporter and subject. Rather, he says, it's the idea that truffle-flavored French fries make suitable shorthand for cosmopolitan decadence. "No one who has the slightest amount of taste would ever eat anything called a truffle-flavored french fry," Sietsema writes. "They're uniformly awful."
As he explains:
People who love truffles insist on eating actual truffles. Rich people can have as many actual truffles as they want ... No one in their right mind would waste actual truffles by putting them on greasy fries. Eggs or plain pasta with butter make the best backdrop. So M.I.A. was showing her lack of culinary sophistication by eating anything called truffle-flavored fries (and, later, by refusing a photographer's offer of wonderful Sri Lankan rice pudding!), and Hirschberg her own lack of culinary sophistication by thinking that truffle-flavored fries were effete. This is the kind of misunderstanding that always occurs when two non-foodies get together for an interview.