Coronavirus Fears Are Reviving Racist Ideas About Chinese Food

“When the CDC recalls lettuce, nobody goes to videos of white women eating salad to say, “Maybe this girl is already dead because of E. coli.”

The global coronavirus outbreak might be new but the racist tropes fueling feats about the ways Asian people eat are not. As James Palmer wrote inForeign Policy, the American media has long portrayed Chinese people as “dirty” carriers of disease, citing an 1854 New York Daily Tribune article that claimed Chinese people were “uncivilized, unclean, filthy beyond all conception.” Those ideas haven’t gone away.

In a viral thread, a Twitter user quote-tweeted a mukbang video of an Asian woman eating a geoduck, a large and admittedly phallic-looking clam. In the heightened environment of the coronavirus outbreak, a woman eating a geoduck—a mollusk native to the American northwest—is framed as a uniquely Asian affectation: “why we got that mf virus casually floating around,” the caption reads. The responses are equally insensitive: “They really just be eating anything. It’s sad,” “It’s karma from the concentration camps they have,” “That’s why that damn virus going around they eat shit we should not not be nowhere close at [sic].”

It’s worth noting that at places like French chef Eric Ripert’s award-winning Le Bernardin and Dominique Crenn’s three-Michelin Atelier Crenn, geoduck is a white-tablecloth-worthy dish, not an object of scorn and blaming; it seems highly unlikely that anyone would point at Ripert and say something like, “why we got that mf virus casually floating around.” After the CDC announces yet another lettuce-related E. coli outbreak, nobody goes to videos of white women eating salads to say, “Maybe this girl is already dead because of E. coli,” because, of course, that would be alarmist, generalizing, and callous. Chef and travel host Andrew Zimmern ate bat for Bizarre Foods, but is anyone turning him into a source of blame?

Clearly, the Western conception of Chinese eating continues to be loaded. Despite the fact that at least 8,200 people have died of the flu in the United States this season alone, the concern about coronavirus has provoked a storm of anti-Chinese sentiment

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