IN 2019, a fast-casual restaurant called Lucky Lee’s opened for business in New York City with an extremely problematic premise: The white owner, Arielle Haspel, promised to serve up “clean Chinese” that was less salty, less greasy, and MSG-free, so that diners may enjoy their favorite dishes without feeling “bloated and icky,” according to one of her Instagram posts.
The restaurant shuttered after less than a year of operation amid accusations of racism and cultural appropriation from the Asian American community. (Haspel also deleted her post and couldn’t be reached by MH for comment.) But the whole experience is just one battle in the war of mixed messaging around MSG.
This idea of an improved Chinese food fit for the refined white palate is the culmination of decades of insidious mythmaking with MSG, or monosodium glutamate, sprinkled at its center. Today, there are still some Chinese restaurants that feel the