Subtle Racism?

I’m sure this is going to come off to many as something to do about nothing and it certainly didn’t offend me personally but….

I was at a food court the other day. Different sections of the food court had labels. There was the “Green” section which was the salad area, there was a “Drinks” section and a “Vegetarian” section for vegetarian friendly prepared foods. There was one area labeled “Home Cooking” and another labeled “International”. The “home cooking” area had various chicken and beef dishes and things like string beans, zucchini, mashed potatoes. The international section had Chinese and Indian foods. I really didn’t think anything of it but then later this thought just wandered into my head. Isn’t labeling one “home cooking” and the other “international” a subtle way of saying that if you grew up eating the kinds of foods seen at the “home cooking” station that you’re a *real American* and if you grew up eating the kinds of foods seen at the “international” station you’re a foreigner?

It might seem like nothing but is it really? I’ve often heard white or black looking Americans talk to Asian looking Americans as though they aren’t really American. Whether they actually think that or not while they are saying it I have no idea but it crosses my mind, hey, that person IS an American, quit saying things that suggest they are not.

Who says Rice or Noodles or Fish or Curry for dinner is not “home cooking”? I grew up with rice every night, does that mean I wasn’t eating home cooking? Does it mean I’m not really American?

Anyway, I’m sure some people will get this and others will think it’s just a stupid non-issue but the more I thought about it the more I thought it’s one of those things that when you *get it* you’ll get a slightly better understanding of what people that get affected by this kind of stuff are really dealing with and how without thinking people often subtly exclude others.

  • James

    What about music stores that carry “World Music” and “Country Music”? I think it’s a totally valid observation. You would think that they would have “American Cooking”. But does that make it equal to “International”?

  • uh…

    That racism doesn’t seem very subtle to me…. 🙁

  • jg


    “I’ve often heard white or black looking Americans talk to Asian looking Americans as though they aren’t really American”. – GM

    In the case of first interactions, I think some of this can be attributed to the community in which the black/white person lives/works.  There are areas where many non-english speaking people and/or new immigrants live.  After many encounters it becomes the norm to assume communication will be difficult or different, but not impossible, so the black/white person may default into the that communication style. 

    on the other hand…

    I overheard a white woman cashier compliment an asian woman on her command of the english language.  The cashier had no reason to believe the woman was not from the U.S.  Crazy.

  • Interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a food court big enough to warrant labels for different sections. I see your point, but I’m not really sure what else we would call the “home cooking” section.

  • shoegal

    Gregg, I get it, really!

  • anonemouse

    I guess it’s all in context of who and where. Some people think “American” means that big old melting pot of people, and some think “American” means the original WHITE settlers. (I’m sure one of those groups overlaps quite uniformly with the group who think Sarah Palin is worthy of her position in politics too, if you know what I mean.)

    Same thing applies to the food thing. If you’re from small town white america, those “foreign” foods aren’t very common, therefore “foreign and weird”. It’s not racist so much as it is ignorance. (The two are pretty similar but the intent seperates them).

  • jay

    This kind of stuff is even stronger in Australia.  EG Sampras and Agassi are accepted as American. If they had exactly the same family history but their forebears had chosen Australia instead of the US, there is no way they would be fully accepted as Australian.  You need to have a noticeably British family history to fully accepted as Australian.

  • FudKort

    Maybe it depends on who is running this Food Court. If this happened in Japan lets say, and some Japanese sold two kinds of food ‘Japanese’ and ‘American,’ would he be calling the Japanese who were raised on fries and steak Americans?

    Perhaps it’s just that the person who ran the restaurant or whatever cooked their stuff in their home. Besides, up until recent years, that kind of ‘home’ cooking was probably the common stuff for 90% of homes, why should it even matter. I do understand where you’re coming from, however. But whatever, this really doesn’t matter, Chinese Food / Indian Food / Whatever international food still isn’t ‘American Food’, but it is being added to the ‘melting pot’ gradually, or whatever you want to call it. Similar to Kebab in Europe. I would try not to let it bother me.

  • anonymouse

    Heh, which category would they put pemmican in?

  • Racist food?

    I don’t think “racist” is probably the appropriate term here because it implies some negative connotation. I think, like the other poster says, it depends upon the perspective of the person who labeled the food categories. And yes, I do think that most Americans stereotypically think of the indigenous foods of our forefathers as “American” fare, especially in contrast with Asian foods since the vast majority of Asian immigrants came to the shores much later in the country’s history. So foods that were likely grown here on our farms or ranches, and prepared in ways that were akin to their preparation of their forefathers in Europe are more like to have the “American” label attached to it.

    I think the important point, tho, is that it is not intended to be insulting to other styles of cuisine which we all enjoy. Americans eat far more Pizza than Italians. Yet we still consider pizza to be “Italian food”. Similarly, when I’m traveling abroad, I often see food on menus and cafes referred to as “American food”, despite the fact that we’re still very much “The Great Melting Pot”. And Anonemouse, I DO think Sarah Palin belongs in politics. And despite your assertion, I’m quite certain that I’ve dined on a greater variety of fine cuisines in a greater number of countries around the world than you ever will. So please don’t try to perpetuate the Liberal myth that “Conservative Politics” is in some way synonymous with “Un-educated and Un-cultured”. To do so would make YOU the troglodyte.

  • comeon
    Home cooking isn’t racist

    “Home cooking” is a figure of speech describing exactly the kind of food you knew it meant, not a term describing where the food was prepared. Home cooking or any style of cooking is cultural rather than something based on genetics as racism would imply. If I say I don’t like Chinese food, that does not mean I don’t think people who are of Chinese ancestry cannot make good fried chicken or enchiladas.

  • anonymousTroy

    Racism, Bigotry, Prejudice, and Cultural Chauvinism are different things that get all lumped together.

    The present case is just ethnocentric thinking, it’s normal for the commercial marketing to sell to the majority. Certainly not “PC” perhaps, but normal and understandable.

  • Good call

    For the first paragraph of your post I actually was starting to think that you were making something out of nothing, but I think you’ve got kind of a good point.  If some American person of Asian ancestry grew up eating lots of Asian food, they’re still obviously as American as I am, but when they hit the food court they’re going to be seeing a subtle message that they aren’t eating “normal”.

    Actually if they wanted to show an authentic American diet, they probably should have just had Hot Pockets and Mountain Dew.

  • Food racism?!

    Just a thought but isn’t the labelling in the food hall a method by which shoppers can access their favourate foods quickly and with ease. America is a melting pot of cultures its not as though certain areas of the food hall are segrerated for those who are purely asian or purely white american ALL can access the food therefore I believe it is not so much an issue of food racism but more of an issue of embracing food from all countries.

  • A little too far

    Don’t you think your taking that a little too far? It’s like calling a vehicle a “car” and saying it’s “racism” because you are calling it a car rather than a truck.

    With food, the fact is that it’s giving you a category in which you know at quick glance what you are eating. Now, if you were in another country, the categories such as “world food” make include traditional U.S. dishes.

  • spinkick
    you see what you want to see

    sorry… don’t get it.

    I’ve lived all over this world…Europe, Middle-East, S.E. Asia and currently live in the Atlanta, GA area where we have large Asian, Hispanic, Eastern European, Black and white communities. In all my travels, I’ve discovered that these issues on a larger scale are less about being racist and more about seeing what you want to see.

    If you want to see racism, you will.

  • Here’s another possibility

    I’ve seen plenty of food courts and buffets, and the international section is always how you described, but I don’t think it’s meant to call the folks who are originally from those countries as just “foreigners”. If you ever have a chance to visit the Cravings buffet at the Mirage in Las Vegas, it’s very similar except they go farther and separate the food categories into each individual country (i.e. Japanese, Thai, Chinese, Indian, etc.).

    That could be taken as really offensive. Are they saying that those of Japanese descent who are guests aren’t really Americans? I don’t think so. The last thing those hotels would do is try to alienate anybody. I think the problem is that these places just can’t figure out how to label what most people consider typical American dishes. Therefore, they come up with a general all-encompassing banner like “Homestyle” or “Traditional”.

    The Mirage does have a “Southwestern” section in their Cravings food court/buffet, but that’s only because it’s such a big operation and they can afford to go that far. Most food courts aren’t as big, so they stop after they cover what they consider to be the obvious choices and then lump the rest.

    Take care,


  • StevenW

    why do they even need labels at all? Isn’t this a little bit like “seperate but equal”? Which, of course, really means not equal at all.

  • interesting

    Interesting observation you have there. I don’t think it’s racism per se, but yes, it does need to change. Why? Because other people start thinking that categorizing food/culture/people/etc. as “us” and “others”/”not us” is perfectly fine. A lot of people actually do think like that. So maybe categorizing “home-cooked food” as American food is better.

  • Nathan

    It’s a categorization that made more sense 50 years ago. I hope it will go away eventually. My kids (when I have them) won’t be able to make sense of such labels, because my wife and I cook and eat all sorts of food, from Japanese and Chinese to Mexican and German. “Home cooking” for us is just whatever we happen to make at home.

  • MR

    My husband and I faced the most raw and chilling racial discrimination during our trip to Vegas. This happened twice in two different franchise stores two consecutive days. Unaware that I understand Spanish fluently, the cashier at 711 near the Riviera Hotel called us “f***ing chicks” and tells his other Spanish speaking customer that he “would love to take us outside and smash our heads” which not only is racist but could potentially lead to hate crime. should my husband understood spanish, this could have turned real ugly.

    the second incident happened at a franchise mexican fast food restaurant located at the Riviera’s food court. As we walk in, one of the cashiers, again in Spanish, said to his two coworkers, “f***ing chinks, disgusting!”. The coworkers laughed while the cashier turned to us smiled and asked what we would like to order. Are you serious? If you hate us the “chinks” so much, how do we know that what you are giving us is actually the food we have ordered.

    We have promised never to go back to Vegas. People spend lots of money aiding to the development of this city that seems to hate all tourists, especially of a certain ethnic background. Why go and spend your money there?

  • That really sucks! I’m sad that tainted your entire opinion of Vegas rather than just those 2 establishments. Vegas’s Asian population is growing quickly. I met quite a few Filipinos working there and my hotel was full of beautiful American Asian couples. I hope things get better.