With near perfect timing I received an e-mail last week from an outfit called ALERT (Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers and Thinkers) with the attention grabbing subject ‘Are You Racist If You Avoid MSG?’ It seems a big debate is raging in the US about Monosodium Glutamate and its connection to so-called ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’ (CRS). The whole background is here. A campaign has been started by Far Eastern food manufacturers to counteract the ‘myth’ that MSG is bad for you—and part of this campaign is to suggest that prejudice underpins avoidance of Chinese food (I wasn’t aware that Americans did avoid Chinese food, but there we are). The campaign wants to remove a reference to CRS in a well known American dictionary. It is claimed that MSG is harmless and has been unjustly maligned. From my own experience I used to love eating Bombay Mix liberally coated in MSG and I am not aware of any ill effects. That’s the limit of my expertise.
So we now have something which may be described as culinary racism. If you don’t like a certain foreign food, could you be racist? Could there be a slippery slope between taste and racism? Perhaps one reinforces the other. But now we have the Coronavirus epidemic might such thoughts be compounded a million-fold? It seems the virus leapt to humans from an animal source in Wuhan, where live meat is traded and reading between the lines of British reportage, health standards are not high. The story feeds a narrative that these people eat strange things and aren’t as finicky about food standards as we like to believe ourselves to be. The whole thing reinforces the idea of the Other, face masks and all. Another variation of this theme is Halal. How soon will it be before all the new vegans are accused of being racist should they protest the Muslim method of animal slaughter? Perhaps it all puts chlorinated chicken in a new light . . .