Monday, April 14, 2014

When Negativity Wins

Last week I was crazy excited to see my grandmother's cake featured as a Wildcard Winner, right smack dab on Food52's homepage. It was a complete surprise to me, and I was giddy!

It didn't take very long though for comments and emails to roll in, asserting that the panocha frosting was absolutely a misspelling, it had to be penuche frosting, and that panocha was a vulgar slang word in Mexico.

They were right, in part at least. Panocha is a slang word for a woman's body part in Mexico (I think we get a little too riled up about talking about body parts too, but I guess that's a discussion for another day), but it is also a established accepted spelling of the frosting, not a misspelling. I found one example for a recipe for panocha frosting from back in 1938, and in The Culinarian: A Kitchen Desk Reference, Barbara Ann Kipfer writes: "Penuche was once very popular in Hawaii, where the name was localized as panocha or panuche."

Words matter. Names matter. (I might have gotten a bit riled up myself on this topic once or twice.) I never want to intentionally offend someone, and I recognize that words and their meaning change over time, so I might be more sympathetic to the backlash if the only current recognized use was as slang, but that isn't the case either. (I would also wager a guess that it's not uncommon for a number of words to have a neutral meaning in one location and a less desirable definition in another.) Panocha is also a type of fudge-like candy, and thanks to a kind commentor, I learned that in the Philippines the word panocha also refers to a type of unrefined cane sugar as well as a peanut brittle-like candy.

Regardless, the name of the frosting has been changed. I'm not going lie, I cried hot angry tears. Yes, more people are still going to be introduced to the cake, which is a wonderful thing, but it's not quite the same. The name has been in use for at least four generations of my family, and as such, it's a piece of history. It's hard to lose that to people upset over a slang word.

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