Asians call out Portland brand ‘Better Boba’ for alleged whitewashing

Asians call out Portland brand ‘Better Boba’ for alleged whitewashing
via Better Boba / Instagram
Carl Samson
October 2, 2023
A packaged boba business based in Portland, Oregon, has sparked outrage on Instagram for its alleged whitewashing of tapioca pearls.
Driving the news: Founded by couple Parth and Allison Sodha, Better Boba brands itself as the “all-natural” alternative to packaged boba commonly found in North America. Using just four ingredients — non-GMO tapioca flour, natural xanthan gum, brown sugar and water — the company aims to distinguish itself from makers of “mass-produced boba,” which it says is “loaded with synthetic and modified ingredients, artificial colors and preservatives.”
“After launching boba at our globally inspired ice cream shop in Portland, we were pretty shocked to discover so many artificial and synthetic ingredients. Plus, it just didn’t taste…good,” Parth and Allison wrote in an Instagram post.
What critics are saying: Better Boba made its first Instagram post in November 2022. The company’s page appears to have sailed smoothly until last week, when scores of users — mostly Asians — showed up in the comments to accuse the brand of “racism,” “whitewashing,” “colonization,” “appropriation” and “food gentrification.”
“Another CULTURE VULTURE,” one claimed. “You all live to take simple things and make them expensive and worse.”
What the company is saying: Better Boba acknowledges Taiwan as the home of boba. In response to an Instagram user who asked whether the brand is white-owned, it stated, “We are a woman and minority-owned company.”
In response to the backlash, Parth and Allison released the following statement to NextShark:

“We are listening to your comments about the branding and mission of Better Boba. Our messaging was never intended to insult a culture, origin, or identity.

Truly, we love boba. We always hoped to share the tradition and not suppress it. Some of our families are also Taiwanese Americans and it was important for us to create a brand that was culturally reflective of our entire team.

Our quest for a more natural boba started as parents and shop owners. Most packaged boba in North America does not mirror the natural, artisanal boba available in Taiwan. This started a journey across the globe to understand boba production. Our research found that as global demand increases, simple ingredients are being replaced with preservatives and additives, limiting our retail options.

There were also supply chain concerns. Fulfillment delays caused a national boba shortage, and establishing local production could alleviate distribution interruptions to boba shops across the country.

In the context of our name, ‘better’ references simple, healthier ingredients compared to the limited packaged boba available in North America. ‘Better’ identifies our efforts to create a more sustainable manufacturing and distribution process. ‘Better’ ultimately represents that boba makes so many things better!

‘Better’ does not identify our product as being better than the original. ‘Better’ is not to claim our interpretation of boba is the best in the market. Our messaging was intended to elevate and not marginalize. We recognize that our products are simply a version of the beloved Taiwanese tradition.

For us, a boba revolution is about having even more access to all-natural boba in North America. It’s about sharing the origin story. It’s also about collaborating with other brands to showcase the versatility of boba.

We will continue to listen and engage in dialogue to be better. We remain committed to our mission of celebrating boba and its origins. Moving forward, these conversations will prompt change in our messaging to better support the communities we represent and champion.”

Parth, Allison and the Better Boba Team

 
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