Reductive language in a vegan context
I was happily cooking my dinner a few nights ago when I flipped over the packet of Gardein beefless tips I was about to pan fry only to be confronted by casual racism.
Check it out.
Can you spot it? Gardein placed an ‘Asian’ meal idea on the reverse of the package.
I wondered from which part of Asia this recipe was derived. Was it the edge of Egypt that constitutes one extreme of the Asian continent or was it the multiple islands lying just to the north of Australia? Or was it China, India, Thailand or Russia?
Gardein has compressed a population of more than 4 billion humans and more cultures than I can comprehend into one easy recipe.
Doris Lin is much more qualified to speak with authority and from experience on the topic of using ‘Asian’ as a blanket term and she kindly agreed to share her opinion with us when I asked.
Asia is not monolithic. In fact, there’s a joke that the only thing that all Asians have in common is geography and rice. Asian countries have a wide variety of religions, customs, languages, and cuisines. We never see recipes called, “European meal idea,” because mainstream western media recognizes that each European country has its own culture and cuisine. Using the word “Asian” to describe a recipe seems a bit lazy and a bit ignorant. It’s very othering because it implies that we don’t need to know anything more about something if it’s Asian. We don’t need to narrow it down to a country, because all that Asian stuff is the same. Seeing it in a commercial setting, like the back of a package, also raises questions about cultural appropriation. Someone is making a profit off of “Asian” cuisine without respecting the culture enough to figure out which country the dish might be from. If it’s a Chinese recipe, call it “Chinese.” Or better yet – call it by the name of the dish, such as “beefless teriyaki” or “beefless pho.” If you’re making up a recipe that doesn’t have any basis in any particular country, which appears to be the case here, it could be called, “Stir-fried Beefless Tips”.
Thank you, Doris.
I especially love your ‘European meal idea’ example. Can you even imagine someone using the term European to flippantly describe German, British, French or Italian food? It wouldn’t happen but this vegan company has casually used ‘Asian’ as a throwaway term that works to diminish widely-differing cultures and cuisines that have been established over tens of thousand of years.
Gardein, you can do better than this. You want to help animals but you should be able to do this without employing casual racism in your marketing.
You all can and should follow Doris Lin on Twitter.