‘Karen, Queen of Congee’ draws backlash over brand ‘improving’ ancient Asian dish for the Western palate

congee

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include a statement from Asian Americans Advancing Justice. The organization says it rejects donations from Breakfast Cure.

A breakfast brand that “improves” congee for the Western palate has stirred controversy over the weekend after Twitter users accused it of cultural appropriation.

Company background: Founded in 2017 in Eugene, Ore., Breakfast Cure sells packets of various “congee” flavors that emphasize “organic, gluten-free, whole grains and a wide variety of ingredients.” It calls each of its servings a “bowl of zen.”

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  • Breakfast Cure was founded by Karen Taylor, a licensed acupuncturist who started eating congee some 25 years ago and became interested in the process of slow cooking grains for better digestion. Since then, she says she has tried different combinations to find “some really tasty, healthy ones, some based on ancient tradition and some [her] own creations.”
  • There are currently 13 flavors of Breakfast Cure’s prepackaged “congee.” These include “Apple Cinnamon,” “Coconut Blueberry Bliss,” “Golden Spice,” “Karen’s Kitchari,” “Mango and Sticky Rice,” “Masala Chai Spice,” “Mega-Omega,” “Om Berry,” “Pear-Fection,” “Pineapple Paradise,” “Romano Bean Dream,” “Tangled Up in Blueberry” and “Three Treasures.”
  • The brand says its “simple congee method” spreads the wisdom that warm, cooked foods “heal, soothe and energize.” Listed benefits include hydration, gentle cleansing and an overall metabolism and energy boost.

What critics are saying: The company started receiving backlash over the weekend after one Twitter user accused it of cultural appropriation. Other users have since joined to criticize its methods and statements.

  • In a thread, Twitter user Casey Ho (@CaseyHo) shared screenshots of Breakfast Cure’s Instagram posts, including a photo of its all-white team. She also shared what appears to be an earlier version of Taylor’s blog post titled “How I discovered the miracle of congee and improved it.”
  • In her original post, Taylor wrote that she has spent a lot of time “modernizing” congee “for the Western pallet [sic]” so that “you” can eat it and find it “delicious,” not “foreign.” The post appears to have been edited as of this writing, but a quick Google search still shows the original title.
Image via NextShark
  • Chinese American writer Frankie Huang (@ourobororoboruo) is one of Breakfast Cure’s critics, writing: “Like a broken record, I must say that it’s unbelievably annoying to see white people ‘interpret’ cultures of millions and billions of living people like they’re archeologists. Being treated like we are dead makes me want to lie down.”
  • Jenn Fang of Reappropriate (@reappropriate) also took a jab at Breakfast Cure: “Congee isn’t just ‘boiled rice,’ it also contains some specific and traditional flavor profiles one shouldn’t just totally ignore; and certainly not treat as bizarre or unappetizing… It’s definitely offensive for anyone trying to ‘reinterpret’ congee to do so by framing the traditional version as gross and icky, and that their ‘reinterpretations’ will save it in some way by making it better or easier for white folks.”
  • Taylor, who was once referred to as “Our Founder and Queen of Congee” on the company website’s Meet the Team page, is now solely called “Our Founder.” The “Queen of Congee” title prompted some users to poke fun at Taylor’s first name, Karen, a pejorative alias that has come to represent problematic white women on the internet.

Company responds: In a statement to NextShark, Breakfast Cure apologized for their problematic language and vowed to continue supporting the Asian American community. The company said they have donated to the Asian Mental Health Collective and are currently supporting Asian Americans Advancing Justice, but the latter says it rejects these funds.

Read Breakfast Cure’s full statement below:

“At Breakfast Cure, the heart of our mission is to create delicious whole food breakfasts to give you the fastest homemade meal possible. Our Oregon porridge is inspired by traditional rice congee, an incredible, healing dish with references dating back to 1,000 B.C.

“Recently, we fell short of supporting and honoring the Asian American community and for that, we are deeply sorry. We take full responsibility for any language on our website or in our marketing and have taken immediate steps to remedy that and educate ourselves, revising our mission to not just creating delicious breakfast meals, but becoming a better ally for the AAPI community.

“Previously, in March we donated 15% of sales to the Asian Mental Health Collective, posting our support and denouncing Asian hate. We will continue to donate 1% of all sales or 10% of profit, whichever is larger to non-profit and activist organizations. Currently, all purchases support Asian Americans Advancing Justice.”

Read Asian Americans Advancing Justice’s full statement below:

“Recently, community members have called attention to whitewashing and cultural appropriation by an Oregon-based company Breakfast Cure, as well as a series of offensive actions and comments made by the company’s white founder Karen Taylor. More and more people are understanding how systemic racism persists in our country, and yet, Breakfast Cure and Ms. Taylor are choosing to make money through cultural appropriation of congee, a traditional Asian dish, and the self-given moniker ‘Queen of Congee.’

“We reject white supremacy practices that claim entitlement to our communities’ cultures and change them for white audiences to make a profit. Breakfast Cure has subsequently used the Asian Americans Advancing Justice logo on its website and has said it will be donating a portion of sales to the affiliation, all without our knowledge or approval. The Advancing Justice affiliation rejects these funds and refuses to be used as a tool to enable Breakfast Cure’s continued appropriation and disrespect. We call on Breakfast Cure to build a meaningful, authentic, and non-extractive relationship with Asian and Asian American communities.”

Featured Image via Made With Lau

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