Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Food police run amok and the tourist trap


Lest my humble abode become a Colbert shrine, I should get back to the basics of talking about politics - realpolitik and all the stuff that I think about on a daily basis. (What? You were lured in by my prominent Colbert 2008 poster that stretches 4 stories tall? Ok, here's a bone: the latest Vanity Fair interview of our very own Captain America, Stephen Colbert. Lots of good tidbits like how he used to want to be a cult leader. Very apropos.)

Anyway, back to a topic near and dear to my own gut: Trader Joes. (I saw this on Consumerist awhile back but I had so many things to rant and rave about.) Apparently, the good folks in corporate at TJ's have decided to stop stocking single-ingredient foods from China, starting January 1, 2008. From the Chicago Sun-Times:

"We feel confident that all of our products from China meet the same high quality standards that we set for all of our products," the statement read. "However, our customers have voiced their concerns about products from this region and we have listened.

"We will continue to source products from other regions until our customers feel as confident as we do about the quality and safety of Chinese products."

Look, I care about what I eat, and that I'm not munching on some tasty mesquite-and-lead potato chips, but I think this is really the height of ridiculousness.

In terms of branding, it appeals to the xenophobe in all of the heavily urban, liberal areas that TJ's has stores in, not to mention their base in California, which has the most Asian American population density of any American state (Hawaii excepted.) Just look at the store location map. And try not to be tempted by that delicious photo of the apricot flan torte on your way in.

They've got stores in Asian American bases like Seattle, Washington DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, etc. Yeah, we tend to congregate in yuppie neighborhoods too. Every time I've been to a TJ's, I see a fair number of Asian Pacific Americans represented in the clientele and in the overly eager and happy workers. It's kinda hard to be angry at a company that has such happy employees and such tasty "good-for-you" junk food like chocolate-covered soy nuts. (Don't eat them. I warned you.) Jeez, the purpose of this isn't to lure more customers to TJ's and their exquisite stock of dark chocolate bars, or organic dried fruits. Or is it? Mind vs. gut. Ethics or gastronomy? Hmmm...

But I do want to to call them out for pushing this idea that China is a big scary, lead-in-food-mongering place, which just reinforces the meme of China as foreign, poisonous devil (and by extension, Chinese Americans and Asian Americans, since some people still can't tell us apart. Because, we're inscrutable, ya know?)

There's plenty of xenophobia going on right now due to economic worries amongst ordinary Americans scared that they'll lose their jobs, and folks like Lou Dobbs focus this angst in a laser-precise fashion on yellow and brown people, and both. His most recent fixation is the US using Chinese steel and Mexican undocumented workers to build a wall between the US and Mexico. There's a reason why Karen Hughes is partnering with Disney to produce ads to entice international tourists and their gob-loads of cash back to the good ole, friendly Uncle Sam, to shift perceptions away from the "thumbs-up, tacky smile in front of pile of naked prisoners" America.

Cos apparently, international tourism to the US (excluding Mexico and Canada) is down 17% since 2000. Via Reuters:

"Since one of the main causes of the 17 percent decline in overseas travel to the U.S. is the fear of the U.S. entry process, delivering a welcoming message upon travelers' arrival is long overdue," said Jonathan Tisch, chairman of the Travel Business Roundtable and chairman of Loews Hotels.

"It will help change negative perceptions and lead to increased visitation to the U.S., which translates into millions of American jobs and billions of dollars for our nation's economy," he said. [And jobs for undocumented immigrants, not that we want them here - Editor's note.]

Surveys have shown that the United States gets low marks for travel friendliness. One poll from last year showed that many foreigners were anxious about the visa entry process, making the United States less attractive than other countries.

Analysts and industry experts say that many would-be visitors are put off by the visa process, long waits and perceptions of poor treatment by gruff immigration officials.

Portraits of America is part of a plan by the Departments of Homeland Security and State to try to make the United States more welcoming. Disney, which has a vested interest in a strong tourist market, donated the film and pictures to the government.

What is with this Mickey Mouse propaganda? It's nothing new - both Disney and Warner Bros used their star attractions as patriotic gun-toting warriors in the fight against those scary buck-toothed Japanese. (See below video.)

If you think that this is inconsistent with America's focus on scaring away immigrants, you're not the only one. But really, it's all quite logical - we only want people to come and visit and drop moola, we don't really want them to stay and raise families and I dunno, run for office as a brown man in Louisiana, become chair of the RNC, or Secretary of Labor.* And if they do, we want to employ them for pitiful wages. Hence guestworker bills.

Move along, folks, there's nothing to see here. But we will gladly take your money before you leave.

Actually, I have an idea for Karen Hughes - how about you get Stephen Colbert, aka Captain America, to appear in your brainwashing, I mean "promotional" videos? He's as popular as apple pie, and can easily convey the full irony of the situation with the slightest twitching of his come hither brow or a faint moue of displeasure. Then people would know when you want them to come or go. [Traffic-light Colbert action figure under trademark consideration. All potential infringements will be litigated. Heavily.]

*Bobby Jindal, Mel Martinez, and Elaine Chao, respectively.(#)

(#) Correction: We do want them to run and be in power, but only if they uphold traditional Republican ideals like not letting in any more of their kind. Tokenism implies a few.

Bugs Bunny - Tokio Jokio - 1943 - B&W

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