“Chinese restaurant syndrome” is still on Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary — and many Asians are livid about it.
For those who may be unaware, the term refers to “a group of symptoms (such as numbness of the neck, arms, and back with headache, dizziness, and palpitations) that is held to affect susceptible persons eating food and especially Chinese food heavily seasoned with monosodium glutamate (MSG),” according to the reference.
Earlier this week, restaurateur/celebrity chef Eddie Huang and TV personality Jeannie Mai (“The Real”) teamed up with Japanese company Ajinomoto to make the definition obsolete, arguing that it only perpetuates racism.
“For me, it’s another thing to point to other people and say ‘Look, if you think racism toward Asians doesn’t exist in this country, like here it is,’” Huang said, according to the Associated Press. “I know how white people see us. ‘They’re cool, they’re acceptable, they’re non-threatening. But they’re weird, their food.’”
Founded in 1908, Ajinomoto is known for manufacturing MSG, salt of the naturally-occurring glutamic acid (or glutamate).
As it gained popularity in America, the condiment sparked concerns of causing a number of adverse physical symptoms, paving the way for “Chinese restaurant syndrome” — a term first used in 1968, according to Merriam-Webster.
Such effects of MSG have long been debunked, but negative stereotypes unfortunately persist.
“I think that the change in people’s perceptions and their ‘open-mindedness’ towards Chinese food is only happening when it’s packaged and presented to Americans in a way they like,” Huang told NBC News.
Ahead of joining Ajinomoto’s campaign, neither Huang nor Mai had known of the term’s inclusion in the dictionary. They want to “redefine” the term by updating it to note that it is already outdated.
“The dictionary I thought was a reputable kind of Bible that was fact-checked all the way through in order to get us information,” Mai said, according to the Associated Press. “‘Chinese restaurant syndrome’ is truly an outdated, super racist term.”
In a statement, Emily Brewster, senior editor at Merriam-Webster, stressed that no one has reached out in the past to complain about the term. However, they will now be “reviewing this particular entry and will revise it according to the evidence of the term in use.”
Eddie, thank you for bringing this to our attention. We’re constantly in the process of updating as usage and attitudes evolve, so we’re grateful when readers can point us toward a definition that needs attention. We will be reviewing the term and revising accordingly.
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) January 14, 2020
“The ongoing evolution of language means that we are in a constant state of revision. Keeping up with it is a challenge, so we are always grateful to readers for pointing us to vocabulary that is in need of review,” Brewster said, according to NBC News. “As usages change, our entries change to reflect those shifts. Our aim is always to provide accurate information about what words mean, which includes providing information about whether a use is offensive or dated.”
— Jeannie Mai (@jeanniemai) January 14, 2020
The campaign uses the hashtag #RedefineCRS on social media.
Twitter users had mixed opinions on the matter:
Didn’t even know this was a thing. Damn if you asked me what Chinese Restaurant Syndrome was I’d say happiness.
— taylor (@TaylorBradley54) January 14, 2020
I think this syndrome is for white people who cant stomach flavor
— Vintage Vandal (@mr_moth_balls) January 14, 2020
I don’t think anyone actually considers this a real thing anymore haha. Clearly a severely outdated term
— Nikolaus (@apollonewo) January 14, 2020
Having been around in 1968, I consumed a great deal of MSG (as did many of us). It was a staple to food addition. *Adored* Chinese food (& yes, then they added MSG to most everything) — syndrome found because found through that. Most immediately reduced or removed at restaurants.
— Gwendol Bowling (@gwendolbowling) January 15, 2020
I can’t help but feel like there is a very fundamental misunderstanding of what a Dictionary actually is, at play here…
— Joe Townsend (@Jtownsend95) January 15, 2020
I have literally never even heard of the term before seeing this tweet
— Holly Jolly Daniel (@DGarraston) January 15, 2020
MSG is super unhealthy
— Shooter0404 (@shooter0404) January 15, 2020
Western society is truly prejudiced against Asians. We have to work twice as hard as everyone else just to find something to claim victimhood over!
— Orange Juche (@OrangeJuche) January 15, 2020
“a group of symptoms (such as numbness of the neck, arms, and back with headache, dizziness, and palpitations) that is held to affect susceptible persons eating food and especially Chinese food heavily seasoned with monosodium glutamate”
yep looks racist to me…
— Colin McEvoy (@ColinMcEvoy_) January 15, 2020
Yeah, let’s just ignore the historical FACT that Chinese food used to be the most MSG-laden food around until it started making people sick. This is not a race issue. This is a health/history issue. @MerriamWebster, ignore these redefinition idiots.
— Sushi Fysh (@SushiFysh) January 15, 2020
Feature Images via Ajinomoto