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The beef-stroganoff affair

(article, Culinate staff)

Yvonne Brill wasn't exactly a household name. But her death in late March — or, more precisely, her New York Times obituary on March 30, written by Douglas Martin — turned her into a viral meme.

As Amy Davidson pointed out on her New Yorker blog, the print edition of the obit opened with applause for Brill's domestic skills:

bq. She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said.

You won't see that original version of the obit, though, in the online version:

bq. She was a brilliant rocket scientist who followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said. 

As Margaret Sullivan, the Times' public editor, noted, not only did the blogosphere light up with accusations of sexism, but the switch came in for criticism, too, for continuing to emphasize traditional gender roles. Sullivan, as always, had good points to make:

bq. This all may seem to be a tempest in a Crock-Pot, but it actually raises some significant questions related to gender — which is under much discussion at a time when Sheryl Sandberg’s [%amazonProductLink asin=0385349947 "Lean In"] has hit the top of the nonfiction best-seller list.

bq. When it’s highly unusual for a woman to do what she did professionally, to what extent does that merit notice? Should gender be ignored in a profile or obituary? Should it be treated as the main event?

On NPR's food blog, The Salt, Maria Goody lamented the loss of the beef stroganoff from the obituary, wishing that Martin had tried to explore it more, not less.

The full obituary emphasizes Brill's many professional achievements. Now if only it included the recipe for that "mean beef stroganoff" . . .