IN THE ethnic food aisles at Trader Joe's last week, the cancel culture hit a speed bump.
The popular grocery chain, famous for its organic, gourmet, and imported foods, came in for some unwelcome notice recently when the New York Times, CNN, and other news outlets called attention to a petition condemning Trader Joe's for its "racist branding and packaging." The petition, launched on Change.org by a California high school student, declared that the company "perpetuates harmful stereotypes" by labeling some of its international foods with international names, such as Trader José's for its Mexican beer, Trader Jacques' for its ham-and-cheese croissants, Arabian Joe's for its Middle Eastern flatbread, and Trader Ming's for its Kung Pao chicken. The use of these familiar ethnic names amounts to racism, scolded 17-year-old Briones Bedell, "because they exoticize other cultures."
In reality, they do just the opposite: They familiarize other cultures. They present international foods as accessible and appealing. Far from portraying foreign peoples and their foods as weirdly exotic, the lighthearted branding helps make them as welcome and appetizing as traditional "American" foods. Trader Joe's ethnic packaging exemplifies the melting pot at its most engaging, lowering the barriers between consumers of different backgrounds and encouraging Americans to explore the variety and joys of other cuisines.
On social media, where Bedell tried to promote her petition (she tweeted that Trader Joe's "romanticizes imperialism, fetishizes native cultures, and casually misappropriates"), the reaction was overwhelmingly negative. . . .