Why It Matters That Milk Bar Renamed Its Signature Pie

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(Image credit: Karen Culp/Shutterstock)

Yesterday, Christina Tosi posted a letter she’d sent to her employees at Milk Bar explaining her decision to change the name of their signature dish from “Crack Pie” to “Milk Bar Pie.” It’s a decision that has been a long time coming for advocates of inclusivity and thoughtfulness in the food writing community, and one that she seemed to come to begrudgingly, but in the end, one that matters.

Gooey, buttery, and rich, Tosi’s pie was part of what launched the pastry chef to international fame, to the top of a dessert empire that spans the country (and extends into a second) and commands lines down the block.

The original name was meant to harken the “addictiveness” of the sweet treat, but, as San Francisco Chronicle food critic Soleil Ho explained in her piece on words that she does not use, “No matter how delicious something might be, its effect on me is nothing close to what crack does to people and their families.” You would never call something “Brain Cancer pie,” no matter how lodged in your head it becomes, there’s no reason you should call it any other name like that. Using drug and addiction-related terms to describe a food might not seem like a problem for those who are removed from the day-to-day struggles around these things, but for many it makes light of a serious problem.

While writers have brought up the issue to Tosi often, she’s seemed resistant in the past. New York Times food writer Kim Severson mentioned in a tweet that as recently as a few months ago, Tosi “shrugged off questions about whether crack pie was an insensitive or offensive name for the dessert that put her on the map.”

Even in her letter, Tosi seems to hew closer to an “I’m sorry you were offended” than a true reconciling with why the name could be hurtful, saying “Our mission, after all, is to spread joy and inspire celebration. The name Crack Pie falls short of this mission.” But every movement starts with a single step, and having the most famous pastry chef in the country rename her signature dish is a big step toward a kinder way that we use words in food.

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