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MSG Is A-OK: Exploring the Xenophobic History of and Best Practices for Consuming Monosodium Glutamate

Published:March 04, 2021DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2021.01.020
      Until 2020, Merriam-Webster Dictionary has included and defined “Chinese restaurant syndrome” (CRS) as “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.”

      Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Chinese restaurant syndrome. In: Merriam-Webster Dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Chinese%20restaurant%20syndrome

      ,
      Ajinomoto
      #RedefineCRS. Ajinomoto. Published 2020.
      In January 2020, a campaign pushing Meriam Webster to redefine CRS was driven by the assertion that the health consequences of monosodium glutamate (MSG) consumption is very weak, if existent, with the claim itself reflecting racialized, xenophobic undertones.
      Ajinomoto
      #RedefineCRS. Ajinomoto. Published 2020.
      • Nierenberg A.
      The campaign to redefine “Chinese restaurant syndrome.” New York Times.
      • Makalintal B.
      People are fighting to change an anti-MSG term in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Vice.
      • Yeung J.
      MSG in Chinese food isn’t unhealthy—you’re just racist, activists say. CNN.
      The campaign was spearheaded by Ajinomoto, a Japanese food and biotech company and leading producer of MSG worldwide, which alerted the public to this controversial term on Twitter with the hashtag #RedefineCRS.
      • Nierenberg A.
      The campaign to redefine “Chinese restaurant syndrome.” New York Times.
      • Makalintal B.
      People are fighting to change an anti-MSG term in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Vice.
      • Yeung J.
      MSG in Chinese food isn’t unhealthy—you’re just racist, activists say. CNN.
      • Yam K.
      Eddie Huang on racial insensitivities behind MSG, Chinese food criticisms. NBC News.
      Though the campaign was promotional, pushing for the acceptance and use of MSG-based Ajinomoto products, it still referenced the long history of America’s racism toward Asians in the food and culinary world, which has manifested itself in the mistrust of MSG.
      Ajinomoto
      #RedefineCRS. Ajinomoto. Published 2020.
      Merriam-Webster has agreed that it is a “dated” and “sometimes offensive” term and have since replaced “Chinese restaurant syndrome” with “MSG symptom complex,” while noting that scientists have not been able to link MSG to adverse reactions.

      Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Chinese restaurant syndrome. In: Merriam-Webster Dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Chinese%20restaurant%20syndrome

      Although the updated definition is a step in the right direction, there is still much work to be done on dispelling the racism around this seasoning.
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