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Today in 'I'm Just Gonna Leave This Headline Right Here': White Woman Opens 'Clean' Chinese Restaurant

By Petr Knava | News | April 17, 2019 |

By Petr Knava | News | April 17, 2019 |


I’m just gonna go ahead and leave this story from last week right here:

Indeed, as per a Quartzy piece:

A now-deleted Instagram post touted the restaurant’s “HIGH lo mein” as a version of the dish that was “not too oily. Or salty” and promised that the noodle dish wouldn’t make you feel “bloated and icky.”

Nothing troubling about that phrasing. Nope. Not at all. If I took the trouble to start up a business, open up a restaurant in fact, undertaking all that much-touted market research faffery that everyone always goes on about, covering every angle and dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ‘t’; I wonder how much thought I would give as to what phrasing I could use to best pay homage to a cuisine that I love but that isn’t necessarily of my own background, and how that might play in the public sphere?

The Quartzy article continues:

And Lucky Lee’s name was perhaps the most pardonable misstep in a series of gaffes in the roll-out of the restaurant, which promised healthy and “clean” versions of Chinese food, explaining that the menu was for “people who love to eat Chinese food and love the benefit that it will actually make them feel good.”

The backlash came swiftly, with chefs, food writers, and others pointing out that Haspel was playing into longstanding and racially tinged narratives about Chinese and Chinese-American food being unhealthy:

“Ohhhh I CANNOT with Lucky Lee’s, this new ‘clean Chinese restaurant’ that some white wellness blogger just opened in New York” wrote food writer MacKenzie Fegan on Twitter. “Her blog talks about how ‘Chinese food is usually doused in brown sauces’ and makes your eyes puffy. Lady, what?”

The restaurant owners have since apologised. From an NYT article:

In an interview on Thursday, Ms. Haspel said that she had good intentions, and that she was shocked when she was portrayed by critics on social media as the latest in a string of white restaurateurs who have promoted their Asian cuisine by labeling it as superior to food made by actual Asians.

“We are so sorry,” Ms. Haspel said. “We were never trying to do something against the Chinese community. We thought we were complementing an incredibly important cuisine, in a way that would cater to people that had certain dietary requirements.”

The Quartzy article linked above goes into some great depth and nuance regarding the long since debunked links between ‘Chinese food’ and ill health vis a vis MSG etc., but this is a particularly resonant part:

And there’s another problem with the language used to promote Lucky Lee’s, said Jason Wang, the CEO of the family-owned Xi’an’s Famous Foods, a beloved New York City northwestern Chinese food chain: a basic ignorance about what Chinese cuisine is.

“Let’s first distinguish between Chinese food and Chinese American food,” he wrote to Quartz over email, “Chinese food is full of elaborate techniques and high-quality ingredients, and are quite varied, with thousands of years of history. Chinese American food, though, historically has been about sustenance for immigrants that are trying to make a living in the US by creating and selling dishes like General Tso’s chicken in order to appeal to Americans.”

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Petr is a staff contributor. You can follow him on Twitter.

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