Like cheese on toast or mashed potato, a meatball is one of those painfully self-descriptive foodstuffs. It's meat, rolled into a ball. A ball of meat. Spherical-shaped meat mass.
Impossible to get wrong, you'd think. But then you probably weren't at the fourth annual Meatball and Gravy Contest at Philadelphia's Tap Room on 19th bar last week. As Philly Mag reports, this year's meatball competition ended in controversy when one of the contestants had the audacity to enter a vegan meatball.
Local chef Jennifer Zavala, who has appeared on Top Chef and ran a tamale truck in the city, made the offending balls with chickpeas in a twist on the Italian fritter known as panelle. Philly Mag reporter Victor Fiorillo was a judge on the competition and described them in his piece for the magazine as "among my favourite tastes of the day, in spite of them being meat-free balls at a meatball competition."
Sadly, not everyone at the competition was quite so pleased with Zavala's meatless entry. Fiorillo wrote that he overheard "more than a few snickers and disses about Zavala's entry throughout the day," as well as one judge pointedly remark: "They're called meatballs."
When a rumour got out that Zavala had won the competition with her vegan balls (she hadn't, it was another female chef, Jena Leigh, who entered a Calabrese meatball with pork and veal), things turned nasty. According to Fiorillo, the crowd was incensed at the thought of a chickpea ball winning a meatball competition in South Philadelphia, an area of the city with a proud Italian community and reputation for hearty and traditional meatballs.
Fiorillo reportedly heard one woman say to her friend, "That tattooed bitch won!" while another lamented, "They weren't even meatballs!"
The misplaced outrage at Zavala's supposed win continued on the event's Facebook page, where commenters wrote: "So pissed off… Never again" and "How does a non meat meatball win at a south Philly meatball contest? I feel sad for people that took the time to make a real meatball and lost to a gluten free chickpea rolled ball."
Zavala, however, seemed to take the comments in her stride, posting on her own Facebook page after Meatballgate: "I may not make it out of Monday alive!! Apparently making a non-meat, meat-a-ball.. gets one death threats." She also took to Twitter to share a photo of her (admittedly pretty tasty looking) vegan meatballs and say: "Thanks #Philly for the weirdest 2 days of my life."
I'm just gonna come out and say it.
I'm 100% okay with this lady receiving death threats.
Now even though I am fundamentally anti-vegans, had she actually been killed I would agree that would be a little bit much. Nobody needs to die over a meatball contest. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't shed a tear, but I wouldn't be celebrating or anything either. Even vegans, despite how misguided they are on enjoying the finer things in life deserve life.
But that doesn't change that I'm 100% okay with the threat of death. Mainly just for her stupidity for thinking this wouldn't cause a fuss. Social-Darwinism people! Whether people want to accept it or not, you need to understand that your surroundings impact how your actions are perceived. I lived in the south for 7 weeks, so I know a thing or two about being well versed in different areas, guys. Sure if you're in Portland, or Seattle and bring vegan-meatballs to a meatball competition they'll probably throw you a parade and give you a key to the city. But in Philly, yeah, they'll probably want to kill you. I don't understand how this is so tough to understand. You need to be aware of your surroundings. If you leave your car unlocked in the city, don't be surprised when your stereo is gone.
You need to realize who you're dealing with. What do you expect when you bring vegan-meatballs to a meatball contest in SOUTH PHILLY? Not to go after low hanging fruit (here I go!) but we all know Philly fans are kind of the worst. They infamously threw snowballs at Santa, cheered when Michael Irvin had a career ending injury, and throw up on 11 year old girls. We know how seriously they take their sports. You don't think the overly Italian people in South Philly in a fucking meatball contest aren't going to take it a little too seriously? You don't think Antonio cares about his great-great-great grandmother's secret meatball and gravy recipe a little too much? Come on, use an ounce of brain power one time for me.
Also I'm just gonna say it, you shouldn't be allowed to bring vegan-meatballs at a meatball competition. There's no fucking meat in them. It's a MEATball contest. Not a chickpea contest. There's literally two requirements, that there's meat and it's shaped like a ball. This was not a meatball, it's a mound of healthy garbage, no wonder why people are upset. My mom told me eggplant parm was chicken parm once when I was like 8 and I still haven't forgiven her. I get it in today's PC no label society we want to blur lines of basically everything, lets let girls join the boy scouts. I mean honestly I don't really give a shit about that, if you wanna do it go for it, but we do need some sort of line in the sand. Meatball competitions should be reserved for strictly meats. If we as Americans can't agree on that, then we'll never agree on anything.