Why Bagel Snobs Shouldn’t Kvetch About the New Bagel Emoji

The new bagel emoji in a repeated design over a red background.
iOS’s bagel emoji has earned the ire of bagel lovers. Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Apple.

Even though we already have more than enough emojis, the emoji powers that be insist on creating new ones, and so later this month, iOS users will get about 70 additional tiny pictograms with which to express themselves. This harvest adds to the fold a llama, a mosquito, and a cupcake, but so far, the most controversial new emoji is proving to be—weirdly, or inevitably—the bagel.

The bagel isn’t the first ringed food to receive the emoji treatment—the doughnut earned that distinction years ago. Perhaps to differentiate it from its sweeter cousin, iOS depicts the bagel as sliced in two, with the top, outer-exposed half overshadowing the bottom, inner-exposed half. Its color is to my eyes a pleasing golden brown, but what critics are taking issue with is its perfect roundness, which looks machine-made as opposed to handcrafted by mom-and-pop bagel-meisters like authentic bagels should be, the argument goes. Also a problem? That the bagel is plain (why not sesame, or everything?) and its lack of toasting or cream cheese.

If the recent hullaballoo over Cynthia Nixon’s bagel order proved anything, it’s that for many people, bagels serve as important signifiers of taste, which is what at least some of this emoji outcry is really about. People want to demonstrate that they, unlike those emoji rubes, know from good bagels. There may be some geographic snobbery going on too—good bagels, the feeling goes, originate in authentic places. (Never mind that, say, Manhattan is home to plenty of mediocre bagels, too.)

Frankly speaking, the Apple bagel emoji seems fine. It’s on par with other emoji food, which, it bears mentioning, are all cartoons. Of course they’re going to look machine- and not hand-made; that’s what they literally are! The apple emoji, for example, is bright red and has a leaf, even though most real-life apples aren’t such a perfect crayon shade of red nor do they sport greenery. That’s just how we draw apples: It’s a shorthand for all manner of apple varieties and apple-associated feelings. Most of the emojis that depict people do not especially look like people, which also is fine. Emojis, by design, must play to the lowest common emoji denominator. And so this bagel is most accurately described as the bagel most people know: It’s a frozen bagel, factory-made and recently defrosted. Bagel snobs should actually be happy about this. Every time someone uses the frozen bagel emoji, it renders their precious IRL handmade bagels that much more exclusive and special. And I’m happy to say all this to your face next time I see you at Zabar’s.