In 2017, white Eugene-based acupuncturist and business owner Karen (yes, Karen) Taylor launched her rice porridge company Breakfast Cure, pre-packaged packs of flavored rice customers make into slow-cooker congee. However, Taylor’s business just recently caught the attention of people around the country, and not in a good way: Over the last week, posts on social media have circulated criticizing Taylor for the way she and her company have appropriated congee, and otherized the communities who have been eating it for centuries.
Over the weekend, Twitter user Casey Ho tweeted a thread of screenshots from the company’s website, in which the company markets its congees that “delight the western palate.” In a blog post from the company’s website that has since changed, Taylor wrote, “I’ve spent a lot of time modernizing it for the western pallet-(sic) making a congee you can eat and find delicious and that doesn’t seem foreign. … I’ve spent over 20 years trying all these different combinations to find the really tasty, healthy ones that work in our modern world.” Many people might argue that congee already does “work in our modern world,” considering congee is eaten by hundreds of thousands — if not millions— of people around the world, including in the United States.
Ho’s tweets went viral, and other Twitter users began to publicly criticize the company for its approach to the dish and the cultures that surround it. “@BreakfastCure can taut Chinese tradition and recipes with no worry for being called ‘disgusting’ because white ladies are at the helm,” Frankie Huang writes in a twitter thread. “My problem is not with the existence of these $15 congee packs, ppl can eat whatever they want & boiling grain is not a Chinese thing. It’s their Chinese culture centered marketing that’s super rude.”
Taylor has since publicly apologized, and the website has been edited significantly since Ho published the initial screenshots. “Recently, we fell short of supporting and honoring the Asian American community, and for that, we are deeply sorry,” a statement on the website reads. “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, revising our mission to not just creating delicious breakfast meals, but becoming a better ally for the AAPI community.” Taylor chose not to speak on-record in an interview with Eater Portland.
The impact and harm of cultural appropriation has been covered extensively by countless websites and publications; Dakota Kim’s essay for Paste directly references Kooks Burritos, the closed Portland burrito cart that spurred another national conversation about white women coveting and profiting off the work and culture of people of color. “A culturally respectful thing for Kooks to do would have been to go back and deeply explore the food over time, profit-share or pay for recipes, set up a foundation or scholarship for street food vendors and their children,” Kim writes. “It’s not always what you do, but how you do it.”
• Breakfast Cure [Official]• Casey Ho’s Twitter Thread [Twitter]• White woman making ‘improved’ congee apologizes, continues sales [NBC]• We’re Having the Wrong Conversation About Food and Cultural Appropriation [P]