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.

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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.

Doris says:

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.

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Written by fatgayvegan

8 Comments
  1. Thanks for this. I plead guilty. Grateful for the smack in my white WASP face!

  2. My wife’s roots are in Indian Punjab. She was born in Birmingham (UK) and now lives me in Yorkshire.
    She gets really cross about the term Asian. My wife is a great cook and most of the authentic Punjabi food we eat is Vegan. Even the term Indian food is wrong.
    Where we live Asian means Pakistani. As an Indian you can understand therefore why my wife gets angry.

    • The term Indian food isn’t wrong when it’s used to describe Indian food though. Certainly it could be further narrowed down by region but it can perfectly well be applied to Indian food.

  3. Sean, I usually agree with you 100% but I think describing it as “racist” is ridiculous. Is it lazy? Yes! Could it be better? Unquestionably! Is it racist? NO! The incorrect overuse of the word “racist” (in the UK at least) is causing compassionate vegans like myself to switch off when we see it. Let’s take racism seriously and to ensure that happens let’s use the word “racist” where it is actually applicable.

    • Well, it’s not ridiculous. There are many levels and differing forms of racism. Some are overt like calling people names in the street or using violence, some are institutionalised like higher arrest rates for non-white people and some forms are casual racism like this example where people are lazy and group multiple cultures together under one banner for marketing purposes.

      • I have been following your blog for years and respect your opinion but we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one 🙂

        I think you are falling into the trap of labelling anything remotely race related that you disagree with as “racist”. I am 100% anti-racism but am weary of seeing things labelled “racist” when they are not. We lose the support of so many people when that happens and it undermines the cause.

        See the Oxford dictionary definition of racism: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/racism

        Have a nice day and keep on blogging 🙂

      • Craig, please consider the many ways in which whiteness is centered, and how each of those contributes to white privilege and the othering of people of color. These are microaggressions. They may not be overtly hostile, but they contribute to the attitude that white is the default, and anything else is “other.”

        Also, I would argue that the usage of the word “Asian” here fits into definition 2 in the link that you posted: “all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race.” Gardein used the blanket term “Asian” instead of specifying a country or the name of an actual dish.

        Also, the dictionary definition does not take white privilege into account, nor does it recognize that power is an inherent factor in racism. The dictionary definition lags behind modern usage.

  4. Thank you for blogging about this, Sean, and for asking for my input!

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