US brand apologises after claiming it ‘improved’ Chinese congee for the Western palate

A US company selling pre-packaged congee has apologised to the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) community after receiving public backlash over its claims to have “improved congee”.

The Oregon-based company, named Breakfast Cure, was founded by Karen Taylor in 2017, a white woman, which prompted accusations of cultural whitewashing.

The language was interpreted by many in the AAPI community to be dismissive towards a dish that is a staple across Asia. They also said it was an example of Western businesses “discovering” Asian culture and misappropriating it for their customers.

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An example of a Breakfast Cure pre-packaged congee dish advertised on their Instagram page. Photo: Instagram

In response, Breakfast Cure changed the title and content of the advertising post that caused offence. It also updated its mission statement to say that it “fell short of supporting and honouring the Asian-American community” and is “deeply sorry”.

“We take full responsibility for any language on our website or in our marketing and have taken immediate steps to remedy that and educate ourselves. [We revised] our mission to not just create delicious breakfast meals, but to become a better ally for the AAPI community,” it said.

Breakfast Cure did not respond to an interview request from the South China Morning Post.

In screenshots on Twitter, the post, titled, “How I discovered the miracle of congee and improved it”, she explained that she spent a lot of time modernising congee “for the Western palate”.

She said that she was making a congee that “does not seem foreign, but delivers all of the medicinal healing properties of this ancient recipe”.

“I’ve spent over 20 years trying all these different combinations to find the really tasty, healthy ones that work in our modern world,” it said.

The post stirred online backlash, and one person on Twitter drew a comparison to The Mahjong Line, a Dallas-based company founded by three white women that was criticised for misappropriating the classic Chinese game.

The mahjong company redesigned traditional tiles and wrote on its website that the traditional tiles “while beautiful, are all the same”.

A typical Chinese congee dish with preserved eggs and salty pork. Photo: Shutterstock

The person wrote: “It’s like the mahjong [incident] all over again. Why do white people keep taking ordinary Asian stuff and acting like they discovered some ancient mystical secret and selling their own [worse] version for five times the price?”

Another person said: “I am begging my fellow white folks to stop. This is ... ‘inspired by’ congee, but it just went right back around into oatmeal. Why? How?”

Breakfast Cure’s website allows customers to choose their own flavours, including apple cinnamon, chia seeds, romano beans and assorted spices.

Previously, founder Karen Taylor said in a blog post that she started eating congee 25 years ago when she was in Chinese medical school in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is a licensed acupuncturist.

Taylor said she was introduced to congee because she was suffering from stomach pains and cramping. She said the symptoms vanished when she started to eat the dish, which typically involves slow-cooking rice as a base ingredient and mixing with other ingredients, such as pork bones or century eggs.

We take full responsibility for any language on our website or in our marketing and have taken immediate steps to remedy that and educate ourselves.
Breakfast Cure in a statement

Last year, Malaysian stand-up comedian Nigel Ng rose to fame after he made a YouTube video where his outraged alter ego Uncle Roger offered a blow-by-blow commentary on a BBC video guide to preparing egg fried rice.

About a month later, BBC was praised for leaning into the criticism and inviting Uncle Roger onto their show to cook with the woman who horrified the comedian.

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