A while back I watched one of Mike Chen’s fantastic food/restaurant review videos (he’s one of the best food “vloggers” around), and, since he’s locked down and can’t travel or visit restaurants, he’s been devoting his videos to reviewing take-out foods and purchased foods. One was a review of all the dumplings available at Trader Joe’s, and many of the Chinese one were labeled not as “Trader Joe’s Dumplings,” but as “Trader Ming’s” dumplings. Chen, who was born in China, noted the name but didn’t seem offended at all.
But others have been, as we’ll see below. Besides “Trader Ming’s”, the chain labels several of its ethnic foods with other ethnic names. To wit:
Trader Joe San (Japanese):
Trader José (Mexican):
Trader Ming’s (Chinese and East Asian):
By the way, while I’m here, I’ll recommend the Trader Joe’s frozen pork/scallion dumplings and chicken dumplings. They’re cheap, filling, not calorific, and very good, especially if you steam them. But give the Thai basil eggplant a hard pass! Oh, and I recommend, among the Indian foods, the palak paneer or sag paneer (spinach and Indian cheese), which I’ve found pretty authentic and tasty. (And no, it’s not “Trader Ravi’s.”) I’d never bought anything at Trader Joe’s until the lockdown (they have “senior hours” when it’s easy to shop), but some of the frozen Indian and Chinese foods are pretty tasty.
But onto the theme. Although these names have been around for a while, you can imagine what happened in the new era of wokeness. People objected, saying that the names were racist, and Field Marshal Anna Slatz predicted that reaction:
I’m tellin ya
I’ve never missed in my life and I’m not about to start now. pic.twitter.com/ajkwjmRJgT
— Generalissimo Anna Slatz | 大元帥安娜 (@YesThatAnna) July 20, 2020
And of course the opprobrium descended in spades, with the expected cries of racism. As the New York Times reports below (click on screenshot), last month the company announced that it would ditch all of these labels, which were apparently designed to be inclusive. Now, in a stunning and unexpected reversal of course, Trader Joe’s says it’s going to keep the names.
Weeks after admitting that some of its international-themed product labels might have fallen short of an “attempt at inclusiveness,” the grocery store chain Trader Joe’s is rejecting criticism of the labels — some with names like Trader José and Trader Ming’s — as racist.
After an online petition denounced the company’s use of labels such as Arabian Joe’s, Trader Giotto’s and Trader Joe San as racist because it “exoticizes other cultures,” Trader Joe’s announced that it would keep names that it felt still resonated with customers.
“We disagree that any of these labels are racist,” the company said in a statement on July 24. “We do not make decisions based on petitions.”
“We thought then — and still do — that this naming of products could be fun and show appreciation for other cultures,” it said.
. . .The spokeswoman added that labels such as Arabian Joe’s and Armenian Joe’s were no longer in use, and that the label Trader Joe San is currently used on only about three products.
Briones Bedell, who started the online petition that led to renewed scrutiny of the company’s labels, said on Saturday she was “honestly surprised” by the company’s comments. [JAC: Read the petition if you want to see hype.]
“I see it to be a complete reversal to their previous commitment to removing the labels from the international foods,” she said.
With her petition, Ms. Bedell, 17, said she wanted to raise awareness of stereotypes that are of a piece with the larger discussions about race happening across the country.
“They rely only on characters and kind of vague ideas and not anything of actual substance or legitimacy,” Ms. Bedell said of the labels. “It becomes a tool of othering.”
Now I have to say that I’m generally on the side of the company because I don’t see anything horrible with the names, which are surely not meant to denigrate other cultures. Further, there are lots of Mexican restaurants with names like “José’s”, and I’m sure not all of them are owned by men named José. Likewise with Chinese restaurants named “Ming’s”.
On the other hand, I’m not sure how I’d feel if they started a line of Jewish foods with names like “Moishe’s Frozen Latkes” or “Schmeul’s Buttery Hamentashen”—and you have to go a long way to offend this secular Jew! The only way I can understand my feeling is because it hits home when one is a (secular) Jew. And so it may hit home to a Chinese person to see “Trader Ming’s Dumplings.” It is surely not racist, but it may be stereotyping and insensitive.
At any rate, I can’t get really worked up about this, and the pushback by Trader Joe’s is one of the first times a major company hasn’t truckled to the will of the Woke. But perhaps they will if people start boycotting Trader Joe’s because of these names. After all, money talks.
Since I’m ambivalent, let’s have a poll, and then you can weigh in in the comments below.