Posted on December 28, 2020

Racism Targets Asian Food, Business During COVID-19 Pandemic

Christine Fernando and Cheyanne Mumphrey, Associated Press, December 20, 2020

As the coronavirus spread throughout the U.S., bigotry toward Asian Americans was not far behind, fueled by the news that COVID-19 first appeared in China.


“That old-school rhetoric that we eat bats, dogs and rats — that racism is still alive and well,” said Clarence Kwan, creator of the anti-racist cooking zine “Chinese Protest Recipes.” The speed with which such false stereotypes resurfaced during the pandemic is “a reflection of how little progress we’ve made,” Kwan said.

In the Wuhan market where the virus is believed to possibly have originated, vendors also advertised wildlife for sale. Of the 33 samples from the market that tested positive for the coronavirus, officials say 31 were from the area where wildlife booths were concentrated. {snip}


Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition of Asian American advocacy groups, issued a report in August stating that it had received more than 2,500 reports of hate and discrimination across the country since the group was founded in March, around the time the outbreak began to seriously worsen in the U.S. The group said it received data from 47 states, with 46% of the incidents taking place in California, followed by 14% in New York.

In addition, Asian American small businesses have been among the hardest hit by the economic downturn during the pandemic. While there was a 22% decline in all small business-owner activity nationwide from February to April, Asian American business-owner activity dropped by 26%, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research.


Conversations about the stigmatization of Asian food reached a crescendo this month when Philli Armitage-Mattin, a contestant on “MasterChef: The Professionals,” used the phrase “Dirty Food Refined” and the hashtag #prettydirtyfood in her Instagram bio, which described her as an Asian food specialist.


Racist rhetoric referring to Asian food as dirty or disease-laden dates back to the 1850s, said Ellen Wu, a history professor at Indiana University. Wu said the false notion that Chinese people eat rat or dog meat is rooted in the xenophobic fears of white workers who used Chinese immigrant workers as a scapegoat for their economic woes.


For years, health inspectors have been accused of docking points from Chinese restaurants for employing traditional cooking and presentation methods, such as hanging roast duck in the front window. {snip}

Kwan said it is important for Asian Americans to protest the way they are being treated; to push back against the latest onslaught of bias and racism by continuing to unabashedly celebrate their food and culture.

“We don’t have to change,” he said. “We can live, breathe and eat exactly the way we do without having to adapt to white supremacy, to the white gaze, to whiteness. We can be proud of our culinary heritage.”