A new Chinese restaurant in Greenwich Village, New York, has faced heavy backlash in recent days because the owner used the word “clean” to describe the food.
According to Eater, nutritionist Arielle Haspel wanted to create a Chinese-American restaurant for “people who love to eat Chinese food and love the benefit that it will actually make them feel good.” Since many of Haspel’s clients could not eat mein, fried rice, and kung pao chicken, she developed items with different ingredients, free of additives in order to “healthify” them. She has since been denounced as a racist for saying that lo mein makes some people feel “bloated and icky.”
“We heard you’re obsessed with lo mein but rarely eat it,” Haspel said in the now-deleted post. “You said it makes you feel bloated and icky the next day? Well, wait until you slurp up our HIGH lo mein. Not too oily. Or salty.”
Haspel told Eater that her restaurant Lucky Lee avoids MSG because people claim to have negative reactions to it. The article noted that no scientific evidence exists for that.
“There are very few American-Chinese places as mindful about the quality of ingredients as we are,” she told Eater. “We’re excited to offer it to people who want this type of food, and it can make them feel good and they can workout after and they can feel focused after and it will add to their health.”
Haspel added that her restaurant celebrates Chinese-American food and has no desire to “put down a culture.”
“I love love love American Chinese food. I made some tweaks so I would be able to eat it and my friends and other people would be able to eat it,” she said. “I am by all means never ever looking to put down a culture at all. I am very inclusive, and we’re here to celebrate the culture.”
People on social media quickly denounced Haspel for supposedly not properly appreciating Chinese food, saying she stereotyped it as being greasy and MSG-filled.
“This white woman just opened a ‘clean’ Chinese food restaurant,” said one user, “not only is she using Chinese food stereotypes/naming, she is shaming traditional Chinese food cooking with MSG/grease/starch.”
Lucky Lee’s Yelp page has now been flooded with a string of negative reviews, though Haspel does have her share of supporters.
“Love to watch a Becky go bankrupt for racist appropriation,” one Yelp user wrote.
“This restaurant uses racist tropes to position itself as better than a traditionally Chinese-owned restaurant for no good reason,” said another.
Despite the intense backlash, Haspel issued no apology. Instead, Lucky Lee posted a defense of their position as a “clean” Chinese-American restaurant on the restaurant’s Instagram account.
“A number of comments have stated that by saying our Chinese food is made with ‘clean’ cooking techniques and it makes you feel great that we are commenting negatively on all Chinese food,” said the post. “When we talk about our food, we are not talking about other restaurants, we are only talking about Lucky Lee’s.”
The post continued: “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.”