- The former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York raised funds for COVID relief efforts in India, while sharing an Indian meal with international affairs professor Tom Nichols.
Almost a year and a half after posting a nasty tweet about Indian food, sparking a debate about cultural intolerance and racism in the world of food, international affairs professor Tom Nichols has managed to turn it into a cause to help India that is dealing with a devastating second surge of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was the brainchild of Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Bharara began the fundraiser, primarily through Twitter, and raised more than $120,000 for COVID relief efforts in India, while sharing an Indian meal with Nichols. By the end of their meal, they had raised over $85,000, and as of June 13 morning, they had collected $128,538.
It all began in 2019, when Nichols, in response to an open invitation from a user on Twitter to post our most controversial food takes, wrote: Indian food “is terrible and we pretend it isn’t.” The tweet caused consternation among Indians. Chef, author, and host Padma Lakshmi chimed in and so did Bharara. “Tom, I’ll take you to a place. We need to bring the country together,” he tweeted.
To which Nichols replied: “In the spirit of trust and reconciliation, I will go. But I can’t promise I won’t make faves like an overgrown kid.”
On June 10, Bharara and Nichols met at Sona restaurant in New York City. Bharara shared how the evening unfolded on Twitter, along with the hashtag #IndianFoodSummit.
“Holy butter chicken! We’re well past $100,000 in COVID relief for India. And now @RadioFreeTom likes biriyani. Thanks again to the great folks at SONA restaurant.”
Thanks for being open-minded, @RadioFreeTom,” Bharara wrote. in another tweet. “Great night and we’ve now raised over $85,000 for COVID relief in India.”
In another tweet, he said: “My work is done. I can report that this BS no longer stands. Am I right, @RadioFreeTom?”
Nichols also wrote about the experience in USA Today. “I said I couldn’t stand Indian food. Then a Twitter friend took me to dinner,” he writes. This is a story about the internet, the spontaneous generosity of thousands of people, and the healing power of food. Or, the healing power of lamb.”
“Preet and I also enjoyed a buffet of conversation,” Nichols wrote. “Like any other new friends, we talked politics, careers, our families, and children. We marveled that two middle-aged men who might never have met had found a connection through the turbulence of social media. We talked about strangers we’d never met were helping strangers, on a sudden impulse to do good for others.”
Nichols reviewed and rated each dish they tasted — golgappas, butter chicken, and the lamb biryani, which was his favorite from the smorgasbord of Indian food. “And then, a miracle occurred,” Nichols wrote in USA Today. “A bowl of lamb biriyani appeared in front of me. I looked at it – as I had at everything – with a bit of trepidation. But I dug in. Fragrant, with lamb I could cut with a fork, I was entranced. I had found an Indian dish, after years, that I loved. I polished it off. (I’m not sure Preet got any of that.),” he wrote.
He also tweeted about the lamb biryani. “We have a winner,” Nichols said. “The first thing I would order again and could even imagine having a craving for at some point. Lamb biryani. Curse you, @PreetBharara.
In the USA Today article, Nichols continues: “I began this adventure by offending a billion people, and when it was over, I had learned about food, made new friends, and helped, in a small way, to alleviate the suffering of people in another country.”
In a tweet the next day, Nichols wrote about the dinner: “So I woke up with just a tad of residual heartburn, which is fine considering I ate more Indian food in one sitting with @PreetBharara than I did in my entire life. And worth it to see that Covid relief for India is just a whisker away from 80K. Wow.”
In another tweet, Nichols said: “So, to summarize the #IndianFoodSummit : I have gone from “who could like this” to “if you guys want to go out for Indian tonight, I’m good with that, because I know there’s stuff I’d like. For a provincial guy like me, that’s a big change. Kudos to @chefhari and @PreetBharara.”
All proceeds raised by Preet and Tom will go towards Indiaspora’s ChaloGive for India initiative for COVID-19 relief, which will include creating COVID care centers to provide much-needed beds with lifesaving equipment and medicines in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, as well as food rations and livelihood support for migrant workers and other vulnerable communities impacted by the pandemic, as per an email by Indiaspora.
Hari Nayak, chef at Sona restaurant also took to Twitter to thank Bharara and Nichols. “Pleasure to meet you @RadioFreeTom! Thank you for this amazing initiative.”
Those who followed Bharara’s tweets, congratulated Nichols. Some shared their experience or opinions about Indian cuisine.
“Well, Congratulations!!! By even trying Indian food and then learning to like it in one night, you’ve grown as a person. Good for you. Wishing you well.”
“Good on you for being a sport and keeping an open mind. Everyone has a right to their own food preferences without half the world giving them a hard time.”
Ekta Shah tweeted: “What was your fav stuff? I always tell people who like middle eastern food but say they don’t like Indian food that due to Muslim influence we took have things like kebabs and biryani which are just meat and rice that are without curry. That helps knowing there are options.”
A tweet by Shanker Narayanan said: “Most of my friends that declined my offerings of Indian lunch initially, became Indian food addicts once they took a taste. They’d ask, ‘Can we go to that Indian place for lunch’ ? Once the taste buds open up. No going back!
A netizen even posted what he ate for dinner on June 10. “I rarely post food pics, but in honor of the @PreetBharara and @RadioFreeTom Indian food summit, I had a paneer tikka masala pizza today from a local Boston Indian place, Veggie Crust, and it was *amazing*.”
And some even had a prospective business idea for Bharara. “Idea for a food-travel series: Take Tom to every country/ every cuisine he hasn’t tried…and raise funds for a good cause! I’d watch that….wouldn’t you?”