A restaurant branded as a spot for “clean” American-Chinese food is facing major backlash for leaning into racist tropes about the cuisine.
Lucky Lee’s just opened its doors to New Yorkers on Monday and has already been criticized for its marketing, which employs language insinuating that classic American-Chinese recipes are greasy and unhealthy.
According to Eater, the nutritionist behind the restaurant, Arielle Haspel, said that her take on the cuisine is made for “people who love to eat Chinese food and love the benefit that it will actually make them feel good.” She also told the publication that her recipes are intended to “healthify” dishes like lo mein, fried rice and kung pao chicken that her clients typically feel that they can’t “indulge” in.
“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.”
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Now, people are calling the nutritionist out for perpetuating historically racist stereotypes about Chinese cuisine. Some are even noting that Haspel’s position as a white woman is additionally offensive, saying that she’s taken it upon herself to “save” the culture’s cuisine.
I'm TIRED of 'ethnic' food being derided for not being 'healthy' so white people can save it from the people who created the recipes & flavor combinations. Lucky Lee's Yelp boasts "less oil" and "home ingredients and special cooking techniques" ... WHOSE HOME? WHAT'S SO SPECIAL?— Shireen Rose Shakouri (@sheermean) April 10, 2019
Xenophobic American Lady: We’ve all been there, having Chinese food on Sundays, but don’t you hate how it’s ~*so unhealthy~*?— Sharon Su (@doodlyroses) April 9, 2019
Me, raised for 20 years by Asian matriarchs cooking healthy balanced meals 7 days a week: ………..no?
How offensive! White chef at Lucky Lee’s pretending to clean up Chinese food! Completely ignorant of the sophistication of Chinese food and its use of fresh ingredients for thousands of years. Go visit Asia, try the Chinese food and come back humbled!— Donna Meyer (@Stepintoyorlife) April 10, 2019
I think it’s rad that white chefs get inspired by other cultures. I don’t think it’s rad when they condescend and think they know better than other cultures. NYC, keep this in mind before you “wok” into Lucky Lee’s. https://t.co/ujjTsGJUIp— Girls on Food (@girlsonfoodblog) April 9, 2019
A lot of the restaurant’s social media posts have been wiped of problematic language as a result of numerous complaints. Haspel’s website, however, still has a number of blog posts about her “healthier” Chinese options where she seemingly shames the classic cuisine.
“I love fried rice from my local Chinese restaurant, but I can rarely order it because it makes me so thirsty and my fingers swell the next day,” she writes in one post. Another reads, “You know the morning after you go to your favorite Chinese restaurant or sushi joint and you feel bloated, your eyes are puffy and your rings hardly fit on your fingers?”
Haspel attributes those effects to MSG, oils and high-sodium soy sauces that she says are used at most Chinese restaurants. People on Twitter have begged to differ, and have also asked that Haspel do more to understand the history of American-Chinese cuisine in order to discern why people are hurt.
Ohhhh I CANNOT with Lucky Lee’s, this new “clean Chinese restaurant” that some white wellness blogger just opened in New York. Her blog talks about how “Chinese food is usually doused in brown sauces” and makes your eyes puffy. Lady, what? #luckylees pic.twitter.com/ASXtVs3kFS— MacKenzie Fegan (@mackenzief) April 9, 2019
American Chinese food is a product of an era when Chinese immigrants had to assimilate their own food traditions to survive. The food that she disparages is a relic of that exclusion & struggle. This is insulting and exploitative. #luckylees https://t.co/YLusfyS9iM— Tiffany Weitien (@tiffanyweitien) April 10, 2019
Haspel didn’t reply to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment. However, Lucky Lee’s has since posted to its Instagram to address the negative comments and to say that the restaurant’s intention is to celebrate American-Chinese food. The post even clarifies the restaurant’s name by explaining that it is named after Haspel’s husband, Lee.
Still, restaurateur Eddie Huang wrote a comment on the post maintaining that “nothing about [the food] is Chinese.” Instead, he concluded that Lucky Lee’s cuisine is a bootleg version and calls it “the Fyre Fest of food.”
Eddie Huang vs. Lucky Lee, / please pay my respects to Lucky Lee, except well actually don't pic.twitter.com/URvzpdv941— Delia Cai (@delia_cai) April 10, 2019
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