“The Great British Bake Off” Has a Race Problem

Who thought donning ponchos for "Mexican Week" would be a good idea?

Noel Fielding, Matt Lucas, Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith on "The Great British Bake Off"
Noel Fielding, Matt Lucas, Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith on "The Great British Bake Off"

For the first time in the show’s history, it was “Mexican Week” on The Great British Bake Off this week, and if your first reaction to reading that was “Oh no,” you were right to worry: the baking competition relied on cringy stereotypes and problematic jokes during the episode while displaying a total lack of knowledge about Mexican pastries and continuing the show’s embarrassing trend of “other”-ing baked goods commonly found outside of Western Europe.

Most egregiously, hosts Matt Lucas and Noel Fielding dressed in ponchos and some cheap costume-shop versions of sombreros for a segment in which Fielding said, “I don’t feel like we should make Mexican jokes because people will get upset.” “What, not even Juan?” Lucas asked. “Not even Juan,” Fielding responded. (Get it? “Juan” is a name that some Mexican people have, and it also kind of sounds like “one,” but not really! Hilarious, right?)

The fact that the whole premise of this joke is “Making jokes about other cultures while donning a bastardized version of their traditional garb is offensive, but we’re going to do it anyway” is proof that GBBO producers know better. They went ahead with the bit anyway. (And for what? A stupid pun?) That would have been bad enough, but the rest of the episode was just as embarrassing. For their first task, contestants had to make their version of a pan dulce, but none of the judges onscreen bothered to learn the correct pronunciation. (And no, this isn’t a “to-MAY-to, to-MAH-to” situation because they’re British. When the name of a dish comes from another language, it’s on English speakers everywhere to be respectful and learn how to pronounce it correctly.)

Later, in the Technical challenge, the group was tasked with preparing tacos. Yes, tacos on a baking competition. They were later asked to prepare a dulce de leche cake, but beyond that, are there seriously no other Mexican baked goods that the producers of GBBO are aware of?

It’s not the first time the show has drawn criticism for its cultural insensitivity. Back in 2020, its “Japanese Week” included a moment where Lucas, having heard someone mention katsu curry, wrinkled his nose in horror and incredulously said “Cat poo curry??” (Again, it’s not at all funny and nothing short of a racist micro-aggression.) Japanese Week also saw contestants tasked with replicating Paul Hollywood’s recipe for bao buns, despite the fact that bao are Chinese, not Japanese. Hollywood himself admitted the recipe was “more Chinese than anything, so may not have been the best option for Japanese Week.” Why would anyone think that it was okay to include a Chinese dish in Japanese Week, unless they happen to (very wrongly) believe that all Asian countries are the same?

The show’s treatment of Jewish baked goods like babka and challah have also been problematic at best, and a 2012 cookbook by Hollywood includes a recipe for a “Cholla Loaf” that claims the bread is “traditionally served at Passover.” (For the gentiles out there: one huge component of Passover is that Jewish people observing it don’t eat leavened bread during the holiday.)

Why does this keep happening? Why do GBBO producers insist on dedicating episodes to cultures they clearly know nothing about without taking the time to learn even the most basic details about them? Why even bother at all if you’re just going to feign disgust or don a poncho and make racist jokes?

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