Don’t Yuck My Yum: Kids Books That Dismantle Orientalism & Food Shaming

[Image description: Illustration from ‘Cora Cooks Pancit’ by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore and Kristi Valiant. A Filippina mother holds a large bowl steady while her daughter puts in noodles.]

Referring to Asian as food ‘ethnic’ centers whiteness as the norm

Actually – stop calling all of our stuff – particularly us as people, ‘ethnic,’ ‘diverse,’ and ‘exotic.’

It’s othering, it’s fetishy, and it makes us uncomfortable. When you talk about us like this, you’re feeding into the stereotype that we’re perpetual foreigners who don’t belong here. Cut it out.

This plays out throughout our culture, but it’s easier to see in children’s literature. American Asian & Pacific Islander (AAPI) characters are almost entirely relegated to orientalist mysticism, transnational adoption, martial artists, and, of course, books about food.

The disproportionate focus on how different our food is promotes AAPI stereotypes – and our narrow role (cheap) restaurateurs. This is a direct result of the racist, xenophobic anti-immigration laws that targeted Chinese and other AAPI immigrants until 1965, and how depictions of our food (and by extension, us) as dirty and unhealthy continue that bias against that seeps into how we’re perceived in education, the workforce, and housing applicants.