. . . These days, such overtly racist, fearmongering stereotypes are frowned upon. In fact, today’s foodies put the unfamiliar dishes of non-Western cuisines on a pedestal. Spurred on by blog fanfare, inspired by the televised exploits of Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain, they seek authentic flavors from distant lands—nakji bokkeum, nam tok, shengjian bao. Eating has become a modern safari, a sporting thrill. Authenticity is the hunted commodity, and the smitten hordes—often white, educated, and relatively affluent—are fearless in their pursuits. They want the restaurant signs and menus to advertise dishes only in the unfamiliar squiggles of foreign alphabets. They flock to the restaurants least tailored to the tastes of white Americans, sometimes arguing that lower health inspection scores denote authenticity.
These diners don’t reveal that they share their predecessors’ xenophobia until they get sick. That’s when the once-coveted authenticity stops being a source of pride and pleasure and instead ignites centuries-old paranoia. With matter-of-fact finality, they blame the pad thai, the roadside tacos, and the shawarma, not the steak frites, the coq au vin, or the greasy spoon ham sandwich. And even without a clear link between inspection scores and illness or a careful consideration of the amount of time that can pass between a tainted meal and the onslaught of symptoms, they use social media to project their culturally conditioned fears right back into the public sphere. Today’s ethnic restaurant patrons dare not fret aloud about mouse sausage or spew racist slurs, but their accusations of food poisoning are no less brazen, casual, and absurd. Gastronomic bigotry is exemplary of modern racism: It can be as hard to detect as a pathogen in a house salad.