Award-Winning Writer Schools the New York Times Over ‘Colonial’ Article on Southeast Asian Fruits

Osayi Endolyn

Award-winning writer and editor Osayi Endolyn has called out a New York Times article for its treatment of Southeast Asian fruits that bordered on “colonialism.”

In a series of Instagram Story posts, Endolyn broke down how problematic the way author Hannah Beech disparaged the fruits for their look, smell and taste. 

“The issues of racism and White supremacy that writers and editors are confronting in my industry (and general) are deeply embedded in how we tell and accept stories about people and food cultures,” Endolyn wrote. “Individual acts perpetuate systems, y’all.”

Endolyn noticed that from the get-go, Beech attributes the fruits mentioned in the article to be from Thailand although they can be found in many Asian countries.

“What is Thai fruit? The fruits discussed are native to other areas,” Endolyn said, noting how Beech hinted at issues the way she framed the headline and subheading. 

Apparently pertaining to durian, Beech first described a fruit that is “encased in a prickly armor” that smells of a “deep, dank rot.” Known as the “king of fruits” in some locales, the durian is distinctive for its thorn-covered rind and pungent odor.

Highlighting Beech’s “deep, dank rot” description of the fruit, Endolyn wrote: “We’ve now gotten negative … this is a reported piece, not an ESSAY or in the op-ed section. Skews this framing as baseline and normative.”

Then, Beech went on to describe the rambutan, another popular fruit in Southeast Asia, by comparing its looks to COVID-19.

Endolyn called Beech’s words as a possible result of a bad writer choice and “definitely” terrible editor choice.

“Why casually link Southeast Asian fruit to a pandemic in-progress that is dripping in racism and xenophobia? Do Thai people describe their food as looking like a deadly virus?” she asked.

Why is the writer framing a story about a fruit with the pandemic?” Endolyn added. “As an issue of global commerce, it makes sense. But as a piece poised to introduce readers to another culture’s food, it is troubling.”

Beech went on to cite certain “obstacles” that might prevent Thai’s fruits to gain popularity in the United States as export goods.

She mentioned “laborious peeling, careful chewing and frequent spitting of seeds” as unsatisfactory qualities most Westerners might not be happy with if they were to enjoy them as snacks.

To this, Endolyn responded with: “This is an extremely negative and opinionated view framed as reported fact. It emphasizes the trouble and the problem. It is an outsider take. By that, I mean a COLONIAL take.”

The writer further explained: “The notion of laboring to eat is pretty American. Other countries don’t necessarily see the deracination of food from source as a good thing. Not everyone needs their fruit cutely and uniformly chopped and pre-packaged in clear plastic bins.”

Osayi Endolyn

Beech also described the dragon fruit  as a “bland mush” that would require flossing after eating and compared cutting through the jackfruit as hacking through “a jagged sheath.”

According to Endolyn, Beech had not been neutral with her reporting.

“Where is the local or indigenous expertise?” she asked. “This is a total devaluation and erasure of culture.”

Osayi Endolyn

Throughout the article, Beech mentioned the coronavirus several times and made references to some jackfruit-related deaths as if speaking about life-threatening hazards and not food enjoyed by many.

Osayi Endolyn

“What could have been possible if we heard from more locals talking about their own food? What about the Thai-American chefs cooking with these ingredients in the US? They exist!” Endolyn asked.

Osayi Endolyn

“Being a person of color in a White-dominated institution doesn’t inoculate you from othering people. System gonna system. We must demand better. Reader, learn to see and question this racism for what it is. Class dismissed!”

Feature Image (right) via oxfordamerican

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