Health problems caused by MSG is one of the most debunked food myths in recent memory. And one that’s been disproved many times, by many independent studies, over the course of several decades. So imagine our surprise to learn the American dictionary of record, Merriam-Webster, still contains an official entry perpetuating the myth that can be described as, at best, highly insensitive and, at worse, downright racist.
Chinese Restaurant Syndrome is currently defined by Merriam-Webster as “a group of symptoms (such as numbness of the neck, arms, and back with headache, dizziness, and palpitations) that is held to affect susceptible persons eating food and especially Chinese food heavily seasoned with monosodium glutamate.”
The problem? Exactly none of this is proven to be true by modern science. In fact, monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a simple combination of salt (sodium) and glutamate, a naturally-occurring amino acid, rich in umami flavor and found in popular foods like parmesan cheese, tomatoes, and mushrooms. MSG is also used widely included as a seasoning in ranch dressing, Doritos, and many more foods, none of which have withstood the unfounded claims levied against Chinese cuisine.
One leading producer of MSG, Ajinomoto, is striking back at the problematic definition in a new pressure campaign hoping to bring awareness—and possibly an end—to the fraught phrase. Starting today, chef, restaurateur, and comedian Eddie Huang and actress/TV host Jeannie Mai have joined forces with Ajinomoto to launch an online campaign asking Merriam-Webster to redefine the outdated 50-year-old term via a short PSA-style video (see below) and social media posts tagging Merriam-Webster and using the hashtag #RedefineCRS.
Jeannie Mai, who is of Chinese and Vietnamese descent, told Chowhound “growing up in a Chinese and Vietnamese household in California, I experienced a lot of different food and wonderful food traditions. I used to think MSG was bad, but I soon realized that MSG was actually an ingredient in a lot of our traditional recipes. When I hear the term Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, it hurts because I know it’s steeped in decades of xenophobia. That’s why I want Merriam-Webster to #RedefineCRS.”
Ajinomoto Monosodium Glutamate, $7.71 on Amazon
Drop an umami bomb into your next meal.
Merriam-Webster has shown flashes of woke-ness as recently as this past December when the dictionary chose “they”— the pronoun used for gender non-conforming and non-binary people—as the word of the year. We’ll see if they can keep the streak going in 2020 and finally #RedefineCRS.
As of 1:24 PM, ET Merriam-Webster responded with a tweet thanking Eddie Huang for bringing the definition to their attention and stating that they would be revising it accordingly. Good looks, MW.
Header image courtesy of Ajinomoto.