A White Restaurateur Advertised ‘Clean’ Chinese Food. Chinese-Americans Had Something to Say About It.
Arielle Haspel, a Manhattan health coach with a sleek social media presence, wanted to open the kind of Chinese restaurant, she said, where she and her food-sensitive clients could eat. One where the lo mein wouldn’t make people feel “bloated and icky” the next day, or one where the food wasn’t “too oily” or salty, as she wrote in an Instagram post a few weeks ago.
She chose a name for her new restaurant, Lucky Lee’s, that sounded stereotypically Chinese, even though she and her husband, Lee, are not Asian. She decorated the restaurant with bamboo and jade touches, and designed her logo with a chopstick-inspired font.
And then, quite predictably, she was flamed on the internet for it.
The uproar over Lucky Lee’s, which opened on Monday, has become the latest front in the debate over cultural appropriation and cultural arrogance, following controversies involving, among many others, Dolce & Gabbana and Miley Cyrus.
周一开业的幸运李餐厅引发的轩然大波，已成为文化挪用和文化傲慢骂战的最新前线。此前，包括杜嘉班纳(Dolce & Gabbana)和麦莉·赛勒斯(Miley Cyrus)等等都卷入过类似的争议。
In an interview on Thursday, Ms. Haspel said that she had good intentions, and that she was shocked when she was portrayed by critics on social media as the latest in a string of white restaurateurs who have promoted their Asian cuisine by labeling it as superior to food made by actual Asians.
“We are so sorry,” Ms. Haspel said. “We were never trying to do something against the Chinese community. We thought we were complementing an incredibly important cuisine, in a way that would cater to people that had certain dietary requirements.”
Within a day of Lucky Lee’s opening in the Union Square area, Asian-Americans castigated her on social media. Yelp temporarily disabled its listing because of an “unusual activity alert.” And a stream of food writers posted about how Ms. Haspel’s decision to brand her Chinese food as “clean” was dredging up stereotypes that were hurtful to Chinese-Americans, not to mention tone-deaf.
“Ohhhh I CANNOT with Lucky Lee’s, this new ‘clean Chinese restaurant’ that some white wellness blogger just opened in New York,” MacKenzie Fegan, a food writer, said on Twitter. “Her blog talks about how ‘Chinese food is usually doused in brown sauces’ and makes your eyes puffy. Lady, what? #luckylees”
This week, Ms. Haspel, 36, deleted Instagram posts that could be seen as culturally insensitive, such as the one about feeling icky after eating lo mein. She decided against using a decal that said “Wok in, Take Out” that she planned to put on the window.
在这周，36岁的哈斯佩尔删除了Instagram上一些可能被认为存在文化漠视的内容，比如说吃了捞面后感到恶心。她原本打算在餐厅的窗户上贴“Wok in, Take Out”（“入锅，外卖”。“入锅”取“入内”[Walk in]的谐音。而此处的锅特指中餐特有的炒锅。——译注）这样的字眼，现在也放弃了。
“We have been listening and learning, and we have been making changes and we will continue,” she said. “Shame on us for not being smarter about cultural sensitivities.”
Ms. Haspel’s blog, and her food videos, promote something she calls “clean eating,” which to her, means things like: eating organic, avoiding additives and using olive oil instead of canola.
“Clean eating” is not related to a particular type of cuisine. Instead, she explained in one online video, it is “all about finding a healthier alternative to your favorite indulgent food.”
“I love health-ifying bad food so you can treat yourself, guilt-free,” she said in another cooking video.
She tried to explain her “clean food” concept in an Instagram post earlier this week, but it didn’t stop the onslaught of criticism. Her detractors said not understanding she was being offensive was not a good excuse. They said that when she decided to open a Chinese restaurant, she had a responsibility to learn more about the culture of the food she was appropriating.
“Where she is coming from is a very dark place, and it’s a very sensitive place in the hearts of Chinese people,” said Chris Cheung, the owner of East Wind Snack Shop, an acclaimed dumpling restaurant in Brooklyn. Particularly insulting, he said, was the connotation in her marketing that other Chinese food was unhealthy or unclean, which is a stereotype that Chinese restaurateurs have been fighting for decades.
“她的出发点非常黑暗，这在华人心目中是个很敏感的东西，”布鲁克林一家很受好评的饺子店东风小吃店(East Wind Snack Shop)的老板克里斯·张(Chris Cheung)说。他说，尤其令人感到受侮辱的是，她在营销中暗示其他中餐不健康或不干净，这是中餐馆老板几十年来一直反对的一种刻板印象。
“She mentions that every time she goes to eat Chinese food, she’s bloated,” he said. “Well, I don’t know where she is going to eat Chinese food, but that doesn’t happen to me or anyone else who I know when they eat it.”
Doron Wong, chef and partner of Northern Tiger, a Chinese restaurant in the financial district, said: “I think she didn’t do her research and was kind of stereotyping everybody, which I found a little bit unfair, but at the same time, very entertaining. I see it as she was trying to come in at a different angle.”
金融区中餐馆北虎(Northern Tiger)的大厨兼合伙人多伦·黄(Doron Wong)说：“我觉得她没有做调查，用刻板印象来看待一切，我觉得有点不公平，但同时也很有趣。我看到她试图找一个不同的切入点。”
He added that a new generation of Chinese-American chefs were already using ingredients that were gluten-free, organic and non-GMO, which she probably should have known. “We are very aware of what we are putting into other people’s bodies,” he said.
Ms. Haspel is the latest white chef to be accused in recent months of appropriating Asian cultural tropes in insensitive ways.
In November, Andrew Zimmern, a Travel Channel food host, opened a restaurant near Minneapolis called Lucky Cricket, which he said in an interview would save Midwesterners from having to eat Chinese food he described with an expletive; he later apologized. In London, restaurateur Gordon Ramsay will soon be opening an “authentic Asian eating house” called Lucky Cat.
去年11月，旅游频道(Travel Channel)美食节目主持人安德鲁·齐默恩(Andrew Zimmern)在明尼阿波利斯附近开了一家名为幸运板球(Lucky Cricket)的餐厅，他在一次采访中说，这家餐厅可以让中西部人不用再吃中餐——他用了脏话来描述这种菜肴。后来他为此道歉。在伦敦，餐馆老板戈登·拉姆齐(Gordon Ramsay)不久后要开一家名叫幸运猫(Lucky Cat)的“正宗亚洲餐厅”。
“Lucky is becoming code for something awful,” Cathy Erway, a food writer of Taiwanese heritage, said in a tweet.
In the interview, Ms. Haspel defended her concept and menu, while acknowledging some errors in presenting them. She said her decision to brand her lo mein “Hi-Lo Mein,” was just meant to be “cute,” not to denote its superior quality. The décor, she said, was inspired by the 1930s textile designs of her grandmother, and was authentic to her own Jewish-American family traditions.
On Wednesday, Lucky Lee’s, on University Place between 10th and 11th Streets, was busy. The patrons were a mix of people curious about the controversy, supporters of Ms. Haspel and others who had just walked in and had no idea about the backlash.
The menu is filled with health-oriented takes on Chinese-American classics, such as baked General Tso’s chicken that comes with kale salad, coconut steamed rice and sautéed string beans. The style is fast casual, with counter ordering, and prices for most items range between $11 and $18.
“Our entire menu is gluten-free, dairy-free, wheat-free, corn-free, peanut-, cashew- and pistachio-free,” the menu states. “We use non-GMO oil, and never refined sugar, MSG or food coloring.”
“We seek to be able to offer food that some people are not able to eat otherwise,” Ms. Haspel said.
Jing Sun, who is Chinese-American, came with two friends from a technology firm in SoHo to check out the food. They enjoyed it, particularly the kale salad and charred broccoli. “I support the concept,” Ms. Sun said. “I think it’s pretty regrettable the way she communicated about it, though.”
She added: “I don’t think that the stakes should be high enough for the restaurant to fail. But I hope she learns something about the history and cultural context she’s working in as a result of the backlash.”