The debate surrounding the supermarket “ethnic” food aisle
In many supermarkets, tortillas, soy sauce, and other products connected to Asian and Latin American countries are often still relegated to the “ethnic” food aisle — a place that David Chang recently called “the last bastion of racism that you can see in full daylight in retail America” on his podcast.
To some shoppers and supermarket owners, grouping these items together makes sense because it caters to convenience, and can even help maximize the sales of those products, according to a new Washington Post report about the ethnic food aisle. But to some children of immigrants, like Chang, the continued existence of the ethnic food aisle is an outdated remnant of “1950s America,” an era when the blatant segregation and marginalization of immigrants and people of color was even more commonplace than it is today (although now, by all accounts, is not a particularly great time for immigrants in the U.S., either).
Chang, in an interview with the Post, called this phenomenon an “invisible ceiling” on some supermarket items:
Italian products that were once marginalized, such as olive oils and vinegars, are now routinely integrated into grocery store aisles, while Chinese, Japanese and Latino foods remain stuck in their own sections. The ongoing segregation of these foods, Chang says, isn’t about acceptance among the mainstream. Asian and Latino cuisines have long been embraced by Americans of every stripe, he says.
Growing up, Chang said, the ethnic food aisle was a reminder that he was different from white America: “We were always going to be different … We were never going to be accepted.” Now that tacos, stir fries, and other dishes that are made with these ethnic food aisle ingredients have become common fixtures in the American diet, Chang argued, it’s time to get rid of the separate aisle.
Disclosure: David Chang is producing shows for Hulu in partnership with Vox Media Studios, part of Eater’s parent company, Vox Media. No Eater staff member is involved in the production of those shows, and this does not impact coverage on Eater.
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