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The Roots of Anti-MSG Xenophobia

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BY: Kim Pham

The Roots of Anti-MSG Xenophobia

If we had a dollar for everytime someone asked us if our products have MSG in them, we’d be rich by now! 💸

While we are advocates of knowing what is in and who is behind your food, we find that most of the villainization of MSG is rooted in antiquated stereotypes, bad science, and xenophobia.

In the wise words of Anthony Bourdain: “You know what causes Chinese Restaurant Syndrome? Racism.”

The term “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” was initially coined in a 1968 letter published in The New England Journal of Medicine by a Dr. Ho Man Kwok, who attributed his “headache” and “being feverish” to his meal at a Chinese restaurant — pointing at MSG as the likely cause. 

This letter triggered countless reports and studies claiming that MSG causes breathing difficulties, chest pain, headaches, and sweating. 

However, these studies failed to acknowledge:
👎🏽 their unreliable methods (performed without double-blind or placebo controls)
🚩 inconsistent + inappropriate procedures
🧪 extreme, excessive dosages (sometimes even injected directly into newborn mice

It wasn’t until 1984 that the FDA declared there was NO LINK between MSG and these alleged “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” symptoms.

However, it was too late and the damage had been done — MSG was already demonized, along with the cuisine and businesses of Asian immigrants trying to make it in the US 💔⁣ Chinese restaurant owners were forced to display “NO MSG” signs to avoid repercussions to their small businesses.

The cruel irony? MSG is everywhere. It’s not some sinister Chinese plot to make Americans feel ill. 

MSG is plant-derived, made with fermentation, and 100% safe — naturally occurring in foods like cheese, tomatoes, and fish.

MSG is also found in Doritos, KFC, your Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup — American staples and brands people know and love. (Yet no one is complaining that Cool Ranch gives them headaches!)

This harmful myth has continued to pervade society for decades and is stunningly representative of how Asian America is often viewed in the national eye — its food and culture exoticized and bastardized while, in the same breath, deemed foreign and dirty.

As Anti-Racism Daily writes, “It’s no surprise that an ‘allergy’ to a scary-sounding chemical provided a convenient vehicle for a very old racist narrative.” 

While we cannot speak to every unique body’s experience with individual ingredients, we do ask that you examine your understanding of MSG and its history with anti-Asian xenophobia in the US — and perhaps how it colors your experience.

For us, we're choosing this damn delicious ingredient as an act of resilience and rebellion.

Omsom is celebrating MSG with something new very soon — stay tuned! In the same way Asian American stories and culture are roaring into the American zeitgeist, we’re stoked that MSG is slowly, but surely returning to our tables in all its glory ✨

To learn more about MSG and its history, visit knowmsg.com

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