Breakfast Cure, an Oregon-based business run by white woman Karen Taylor, apologized after being accused by Asian Americans of culturally appropriating congee, a traditional Asian rice porridge.
The company, which sells prepackaged meals it had called congee, apologized in a statement on its website this week after being criticized by many across the board. social media for exotic comfort food and try to reframe the already popular dish. He previously claimed to have modified the congee to suit “your modern palate” and “enhance” a dish enjoyed by Asian cultures for centuries.
“Recently, we have failed to support and honor the Asian American community and for that, we are deeply sorry,” the statement said. “We take full responsibility for any language on our website or in our marketing and have taken immediate action to address and educate ourselves, revising our mission to not only create delicious breakfast meals, but to become a better ally for the AAPI community. “
Asian Americans had disputed several aspects of the business, including the fact that the staff did not appear to include employees of Asian descent and that Taylor, an acupuncturist and self-proclaimed “Queen of the Congee,” had written an article now. edited titled: “How I Discovered the Congee Miracle and Made It Better.”
Congee remains a staple for Asians, with different versions cooked by almost every country on the continent. The word congee itself has Tamil roots. It’s widely regarded as a comfort food, and in Chinese tradition it’s often served as dim sum with flavors like millennial egg and pork or duck. Taylor’s version includes flavors like apple cinnamon and uses ingredients like oatmeal.
In its statement, Breakfast Cure, founded in 2017, called its meal packs “Oregon porridge,” rather than congee as it previously called them. He also said his products, which include ingredients and flavors that bear little resemblance to the original dish, were “inspired” by the traditional rice congee, “an incredible healing dish with references dating back to 1,000 BC. “.
While some references to the congee have been removed from its website, the company, which operates out of Eugene but ships nationwide, continued to sell. Descriptions of many items also remain unchanged, such as “Mango and sticky rice: hydration, hydration, hydration for all of our congee nation” and a masala chai spice flavor that they claim “is the epitome of modern congee.” , which leads to further criticism and debate. on social networks.
Nadia Kim, a professor of sociology, Asian and Asian American studies at Loyola Marymount University, told NBC Asian America that the statement was insufficient given the “bastardization” and “laundering” of the congee of Breakfast Cure, and how she benefited from such behavior.
“Why doesn’t she give more credit to the Asian immigrant and the Asian community, for their ability to come up with this recipe and take advantage of it? It would have been a more informative and insightful statement, ”Kim said. “Not only does it sound very performative, like in a performative alliance, it actually doesn’t look like an alliance at all, to some extent.”
Kim said that many Asian immigrants and those in the Diaspora are ashamed of their food, so Asian cuisine cannot be removed from politics or discussions about racism.
Kim also pointed out that Breakfast Cure’s success comes as Asian American businesses and restaurants have suffered significantly during the pandemic, in part due to anti-Asian racism.
“Chinese businesses and restaurants and Asian restaurants – why are they closing now? People lose their lifeline because others think our places to eat, our food, are dirty and disgusting, ”Kim said.
Breakfast Cure said in its statement that it donates part of its sales to Asian American organizations.
Congee has long been a dish for commoners that is often eaten when needed because it only requires a few ingredients. In contrast, Breakfast Cure’s slow-cooking meal packs cost $ 14.95 per pack. Kim said the fact that Taylor is enjoying the congee, especially as a white woman, erases the humble nature of the dish.
“She is basically making a large amount of money, or could potentially earn a large amount of money, taking Asian food from everyday people,” Kim said. “She claims the congee is not inherently good, and as a white woman, she has found a way to make the congee much better, which means it serves the palate of the whites.”
Krishnendu Ray, chair of the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University, said it was no surprise that non-Asians were interested in Asian cuisine from Asia. East. The problem arises when white people are the ones who take advantage of this culture and sell a “kind of white female version of porridge and then call it congee because they want a cool, exotic name.”
“And when that happens, often strangers come in and, in their minds, improve the kitchen,” Ray said.
The backlash, which erupted on social media last week, to Breakfast Cure is also, in some ways, “a symptom of strengthening subordinate groups,” Ray said.
“When people complain about cultural appropriation, they complain about the integrity of their communities and cultures, and other people who come in and develop notions of intimacy but not with their consent. “
Ray added that it is important to provide solutions for those who want to enjoy and make food in an intercultural way.
“Cultural property is a complicated question of where to draw the line between appropriation and appreciation,” said Ray.
For Kim, the answer lies in bringing more Asians and Asian Americans into the business rather than just changing the name of the dish to “Oregon porridge,” which she says. , ignores the ethnic inspiration of the food.
“When you do that you don’t say things like ‘I’m reforming, improving or modernizing the congee’ because you’re actually working with a community that doesn’t see it that way,” Kim said.
She added: “They saw their own cuisine as full of healthy and nourishing properties and as a way to find identity in a place where they experience racism and exclusion.”