Lucky Lee clean Chinese restaurant, racist and culturally appropriative.
A white woman who recently opened a “clean” American Chinese restaurant in the West Village is fending off a wave of criticism decrying her marketing strategy as racist and culturally appropriative.
Nutritionist Arielle Haspel opened Lucky Lee’s for lunch this week, initially positioning her dishes as alternatives to the “oily,” “salty” cuisine that, as she put it in an Instagram post, makes people “feel bloated and icky the next day.” That post disappeared from Lucky Lee’s account after Eater questioned Haspel about the language, prompting her to explain that her food is for “people who love to eat Chinese food”—itself an umbrella term—”and love the benefit that it will actually make them feel good.” That means people with sensitivities to gluten, wheat, refined sugar, Haspel said; people who want to avoid GMOs and MSG, even though there exists no definitive evidence to suggest that last one actually causes allergies.
There’s a lot to read between those lines: Namely, that if Haspel’s food is “clean,” the cuisine she purports to improve upon is not; that if her offerings “actually make [people] feel good,” then the original leaves people feeling bad. (Or “icky,” as the case may be.) As Grub Street points out, a long-standing stereotype about Chinese restaurants paints them as dirty, and even if she intended to invoke “clean eating”—as in, avoiding refined and processed foods—Haspel still seems to assume that Chinese food is preservative- and additive-heavy. In reality, Chinese food as Americans know it is often sweet and starchy because it has been tailored to American tastes.
“It’s very much erasure, the way that she’s stepped on years and decades and centuries of tradition, of the migration of Chinese immigrants who were actually banned from taking jobs that were reserved for white people,” Esther Tseng—a freelance food writer—tells Gothamist. “Either doing a Chinese restaurant or running a laundry were the only jobs that they were allowed to do. Does she know that? Does she know that history? Does she know why there’s sugar added to some Chinese recipes, in order to cater to the white palate?”
In suggesting “that a lot of other American-Chinese restaurants don’t care as much about their ingredients,” Tseng continued, Haspel seems to be “elevating herself above this Chinese-American tradition of feeding as many people as they can with their dishes, or adapting their recipes for a wider audience,” at the same time she tries to profit off of it.
Michanews’s request for comment remained unanswered at time of publication, but in an Instagram post, Lucky Lee’s addressed some of the backlash flooding its various comments sections. (Although it bears noting that some people interpreted the less-than-glowing response as woke culture run amok.)
“When we talk about our food, we are not talking about other restaurants, we are only talking about Lucky Lee’s,” a caption explained. “Chinese cuisine is incredibly diverse and comes in many different flavors (usually delicious in our opinion) and health benefits. Every restaurant has the right to tout the positives of its food. We plan to continue communicating that our food is made with high quality ingredients and techniques that are intended to make you feel great.”