The Racist Myth of MSG and ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’
This is the story of a racist myth that began with a light-hearted letter to the New England Journal of Medicine in 1968 and subsequently exploded in North American culture — in direct opposition to every shred of scientific evidence — becoming so prevalent that credulous eaters buy into it to the point of experiencing its effects on a purely psychosomatic basis.
It’s often been called “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” and its premise is that MSG in Chinese food results in unpleasant allergic reactions. Interestingly enough, higher quantities of MSG in non-Chinese foods are not reported to have the same effects. MSG is a naturally occurring amino acid, and some of the highest levels of MSG a North American consumer is likely to ingest come in vine-ripened tomatoes, aged cheese, and dry-aged steak — yet there is no reported medical phenomenon known as “Italian Food Syndrome” or “American Steakhouse Syndrome”.
Monosodium glutamate was first isolated from the seaweed kombu, commonly used in the Japanese broth dashi, by biochemist Kikunae Ikeda of the Tokyo Imperial University in 1908. He named its taste umami because it differed from the five conventional flavours of sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and spicy. Ikeda patented his discovery and MSG became commercially available in 1909. It was found to enhance flavours with one third of the amount of sodium as traditional salt, i.e. sodium chloride. In this sense, monosodium glutamate is probably healthier than sodium chloride because it achieves flavour with reduced sodium levels.
MSG was immediately popular in Asia and became common in the North American food industry after World War II, used in baby food, canned soup, vegetable juice, frozen food, as well as seasoning mix brands such as Accent. Yet somehow in the 1960s, this popular food additive became associated with Chinese food and deemed a health hazard. Why? Because Chinese people, culture, and food have been targeted by widespread and effective racist hate campaigns in North America since the 19th century, buttressed by wild claims that the Chinese are “unclean”, carry diseases, are sexually-deviant opium addicts, inscrutable and sneaky, a Yellow Peril.
The 1968 letter to the New England Journal of Medicine which solidified the myth of MSG was actually written by a Chinese immigrant named Robert Ho Man Kwok, who described “numbness at the back of the neck, gradually radiating to both arms and the back, general weakness and palpitation” after eating in American Chinese restaurants. The letter opened the floodgates to a barage of letters and related articles complaining of headaches, dizziness, paralysis of the throat, tingling in the temples, tightness of the jaw, irregular heartbeat, depression, hyperactivity, and all manner of digestive ailments.
Given this preponderance of anecdotal evidence, numerous scientific studies have been performed since then attempting to identify this “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”. The funny thing is that no study has ever been able to do so. When people don’t know that they’re consuming MSG, they don’t suffer adverse reactions. All national and international food safety bodies have concluded that MSG is perfectly safe. People in Japan eat MSG every single day and the Japanese have the longest life expectancy in the world.
Fear of MSG is a racist remnant of the Chinese Exclusion era which exists only in North America and has been thoroughly debunked by science. Yet racist socialization is so powerful that people actually experience physical effects such as headaches, depression, and indigestion based solely on their indoctrinated fear of Chinese people and Chinese food. Think it over next time you eat parmesan cheese or a vine-ripened tomato.
"If Latin America had not been pillaged by the U.S. capital since its independence, millions of desperate workers would not now be coming here in such numbers to reclaim a share of that wealth; and if the United States is today the world’s richest nation, it is in part because of the sweat and blood of the copper workers of Chile, the tin miners of Bolivia, the fruit pickers of Guatemala and Honduras, the cane cutters of Cuba, the oil workers of Venezuela and Mexico, the pharmaceutical workers of Puerto Rico, the ranch hands of Costa Rica and Argentina, the West Indians who died building the Panama Canal, and the Panamanians who maintained it."
Juan Gonzalez - Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America
Tele-Present Water Simulates a Spot in the Pacific from Halfway Around the World
Artist David Bowen is known for his kinetic sculptures that are driven by real-world data from natural phenomenon. For his work “Tele-Present Water,” first exhibited at the National Museum in Wroclaw, Poland, Bowen pulled real-time wave intensity and frequency data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) buoy station 46246 (49°59’7″ N 145°5’20″ W) located in the remote Shumagin Islands of Alaska. This information was scaled and transferred to a mechanical grid structure, resulting in an uncanny live simulation of the movement of water from halfway around the world. The piece, along with Bowen’s other works, speaks to the way technology and telecommunications can both alienate us from and unite us with the natural world. While technology has enabled us to control and model phenomena with unprecedented precision, it may also provide a means to understand the world in a more intimate, visceral way.
nothing to mind save what is on the surface of things
everything is on the surface of things
imagination has left us – with what? some perfect
nucleus about which the barrier revolves
always in some case a particle being shaved down
we go until the direction has run out, then we stay
nothing to waste a mind, save reality
all business, laziness, and a manner of speaking
we fall ourself forward, we re-inflate our image, some
woven dollar bills, domesticated fruits, carbon guilt-prints
we delineate all ghosts living or buried as ancestors
we catalogue species and the reduction of species, among which
we find ourself more interesting, more renewable
we write histories for peoples we agitate
we erase mammoths and so pay forward in their memory
yet another generation
While there is a lot of appropriate rage about Ferguson right now, the killing of John Crawford, III is getting less attention than it deserves. I put Shaun King’s tweets and history lesson on the matter in chronological order for easier consumption.
You really should be following Shaun King on Twitter.
Notice something in common in these photos?
It’s not what you think
I gave it away in the third pic
That’s right! None of these cops are wearing badges or name tags! I wonder why… seems like it’d be important to wear those, since it’s even illegal not to in other states…
This is actually illegal in all states. A police officer must be marked as such with name and badge at all times unless their jurisdiction states otherwise (such as an undercover officer), and even when not wearing a badge, the officer must have the badge accessible at all times and must show the badge in order to make an arrest. Name tags are not required as long as a badge is available because the badge has the officer number on it.
This has really been bothering me. The police in Ferguson are breaking the law by concealing their identities. Everyone knows this, it’s been going on for ten days, and it appears that nobody is doing anything about it.
The police are clearly and systematically violating the first amendment rights of the press, and they are getting away with it. This has been happening for days, and nobody appears to be doing anything about it.
A police officer pointed a rifle at a journalist and told him to fuck off *while he was being filmed, so he’s easily identifiable by his superiors*, and that police officer still has a job.
I know that not all cops are bad (or even most cops), but there are clearly bad cops in Ferguson, and they’re acting with complete impunity. I don’t understand why those cops aren’t being taken off the scene, and why a higher (possibly federal) authority isn’t coming in to address these things.
We’ve got eyes in the backs of our heads and we shut them with both hands, our backs filling the impressions on this queen mattress on your bedroom floor. You get up and I watch you fix your make-up, you mutter how you hate doing make-up. But I do make-up too, I try to fancy ways this story could be more beautiful than it actually is, and it really is — more beautiful than when we laze around to celebrate the chance to do nothing. Firecrackers in the daytime, a minefield of colored smoke. Trash me now, the floor may as well be the bin, and I’m already on it, and I’m lazing here trying to get the paint daubs on the ceiling to move. Ten years ago you could get away with just believing in yourself, ten years ago a street rat was a diamond and the cartoon was flat and unreal. Now there’s boxes that hold more boxes than your brain, programs programming programs, now the trial’s your success story, the error’s not being born communicable to one. Summer’s a steam bin. Breaths cut shorter than a sentence. Love stories are like whatever, but we are obligated to one another and I say this to you like a noble challenge, but you want the love story, tell me which of these yarns will weave one. Eye of the summer, the year’s up to its waist. It’s so chaotic this time of year, everybody in a car is off to hit another car. I remember screaming in slow traffic down I-10, lazy river, no current, no flow, just red brake lights blinking in a row like stoned cyborg eyes at the backs of all these heads, lanes split at one end like the red sea around firetrucks and this burnt algae sedan wrinkled like a prune with the driver side door sawed out. In Manhattan, years ago, my friend pulled me behind an upright queen mattress that was leaning against a streetlamp as we heard the firecracker noises of gunfire coming out of a white mini-van. When I looked I saw a club bouncer lying on his back, the night like a lowering ceiling to come press peace upon him, and a bus stops and the driver borrows my phone, and he tells his boss some other driver has got to get through, he can’t finish his route with that in the way. We’ve all been here before, all we wanna do is finish what it is that we have to say. We like the child locks on our doors, to nix the chance to get out. You’re a trouble-maker under house arrest. I’m a spoiled brat tied at the balls. You want a love story, not dragons to fight. You want the genuine effort with charms. I give you solar flares and jackhammers. You bear and you bear it and still flex your arms wider, and I’m just going on and on, and I’m still going