History of Asian Cuisine:
In 1849, Asian immigrants fled to the United States to escape war, famine, and economic decline for the Gold Rush. About 24,000 Chinese men immigrated to the United States, later influencing a larger population of Chinese immigrants to move to San Francisco. This new wave of Chinese immigrants introduced new foods to a foreign country. Those experienced in hospitality established restaurants and incorporated their traditions into the food while serving it at cheap prices. This accumulated young groups of people, of all backgrounds, to try Chinese food. However, Chinese immigrants were discriminated against for their “foreign appearance” which caused spikes in anti-Chinese sentiments. Rumors such as “unpleasant stench” and “the Chinese eat rats” came about. Even politicians like James G. Blaine contributed to the anti-Chinese rhetorics claiming, “You cannot work a man who must have beef and bread, and would prefer beef, alongside a man who can live on rice…bring down the beef-and-bread man to the rice standard.” These instances led to Asians having to adapt in the U.S. by westernizing their food.
Why Westernization Happened
Chinese immigrants in the United States westernized their dishes to appease White American palates. Initially, White Americans did not want to eat Chinese cuisine due to the rise of anti-Chinese sentiments and xenophobia. However, decades later, Chinese cuisine became heavily deep-fried and sweet, and new dishes such as chop suey, sweet and sour chicken, and chicken & broccoli were created due to the quick preparation process. These dishes were not as popular in China compared to the United States. Authentic Chinese dishes are usually “stewed, braised, baked, steamed or boiled”; these dishes include: peking duck, phoenix claws, and congee. This renaissance of unique food fueled Americans to try the many foods Chinese Americans had to offer. However, this sparked cultural appropriation of Chinese cuisine in the U.S.
“Queen Of Congee” Incident
In July 2021, a white woman named Karen Taylor claimed herself to be the “Queen Of Congee.” Congee is a Chinese dish that traces itself back to the Zhou Dynasty. Taylor, the founder of Breakfast Cure, sells packages of remixed porridge dishes for up to $15. On her brand’s website, she created a post titled, “How I discovered the miracle of congee and improved it,” claiming to have improved and modernized a 3000-year-old dish. Taylor first “discovered” the dish 20 years ago as a student of Chinese medicine in New Mexico. After her social media posts stating: “I've spent a lot of time modernizing it for the West pallet (sic),” and “Making a congee that you can eat and find delicious and that doesn't seem foreign but delivers all of the medicinal healing properties of this ancient recipe,” she received criticism from the Asian community. Taylor’s “discovery” and “improvement” of congee consists of “flavors such as apple cinnamon, blueberries, Asian spices, coconut, and jaggery”, and tries to profit off of the traditional Chinese dish. After going viral and facing critics for cultural appropriation she apologized stating how Breakfast Cure is a "modern adaptation" of congee. However, her modernization of congee contributes to the erasure of Chinese people and their traditions. Taylor’s claims of her new version of congee suggest that the origins of congee are not suited for the White American palate, thus further perpetuating xenophobia, sinophobia, and racism among the Asian community.