"Asian Flair" and Mainstream Food Media

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Photograph: dugspr

In an essay for The Bygone Bureau, Darryll Campbell discusses an unsettling trend in middlebrow cooking: "Asian Flair." Used to describe ingredients from a multitude of Asian countries and cultures, "Asian flair" has been used by Rachael Ray, Zagat's and even Coolio to describe that certain something that takes a dish from boring to vaguely exotic.

While Campbell makes a great case for why diluting the cultures of many countries down to what amounts to garnish is kind of racist, he also uses the term's offensiveness to take issue with the legitimacy of the culinary superstars who use it. What's more important here, whether Rachael Ray is making haute cuisine, or the misguided usage of the term itself?

Rachael Oehring

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3 Comments

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  1. Ellen

    Wait, now so it is politically incorrect to use hoisin sauce in my burritos? Does that make the folks at the Chinese restaurant down the street racist when they use cream cheese as won ton filling? I answer no to both of these questions. If someone in Vietnam, be they chef or home cook, wants to experiment with a bottle of New England maple syrup, I can't imagine a way to find it racist, even if they call it Yankee Flair.

    When I was growing up, the U.S. had a culture that accepted racism. Thankfully, in the sixties a period where people became aware and racism and sexism became less accepted. Then we had a backlash in which some folks (the ones privileged under the previous system) were whining about political correctness. Gah, we still have these tools. I think they are called teapottys or something like that. I want to slap them. You have people overreacting in both directions and, on all sides, there is a gaping lack of common sense.

    To avoid racism and sexism, use some empathy, use your head. If you are lacking in sensitivity and intelligence, opt for plain old fashioned courtesy. That's why a code of manners evolves, because many folks left to their own devices can't seem to figure out how to avoid putting their foot in their mouth.

    On the other end of the spectrum, don't devalue the term racist, which has very serious implications, for every little thing you feel proprietary about. To tell someone that they cannot use an ingredient that is part of your culture, that they must use it in a traditional way is absurd. Both in the sense of nutrients to be consumed and pleasure to be experienced, no one has the right to tell other people how to eat and cook. That's just fucked up.

    What Rachel Ray and Coolio have in common is that they are annoying, not racist, just really ANNOYING. There is no law against being annoying. It doesn't even count as a venial sin. So don't watch them. Is the term "Asian Flair" annoying? Hell yeah. So is yummo. So is BAM.

    If they bug you, (and Ray kind of bugs me, even though I get the impression she's a nice person), do what I do. Don't watch them.

  2. Ellen

    And really, the demographic that the Food Network is trying to approach can't cook a decent chicken soup or salad dressing without resorting to all sorts of godawful prepared crap. Of course they are not going to make an authentic pho.

    Again, it is annoying. But the use of the word racist in this context just desensitizes readers to the whole idea of racism. And it smacks of desperate writer trying to come up with some damn content to meet a deadline.

    Silly, silly, silly.

  3. Liz

    What I got from that reading is not that it's racist to use items from Asian countries, but reductionist to call your burrito "Asian-inspired" instead of "Chinese inspired" when using Hoisin sauce in it.

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