It’s very old news that MSG is, in fact, absolutely fine and a naturally occurring compound found in seaweed, tomatoes, and everything else you describe as having umami. MSG is, essentially, just concentrated umami. So it feels like a bit of a surprise, to Grub anyway, that the Merriam-Webster dictionary still has a straight-up definition of Chinese restaurant syndrome, which is entangled in racist and xenophobic attitudes toward Chinese people and, thereby, food.
As a term, Chinese restaurant syndrome dates back to 1968, as Vice points out, when the New England Journal of Medicine published a letter by Dr. Robert Ho Man Kwok in which he used the phrase and described symptoms like numbness after eating at Chinese restaurants. It’s been challenged in the past, including over the last decade by figures like food scientist and author Harold McGee and Momofuku man David Chang.
This week, chef and author Eddie Huang and TV host Jeanne Mai called out Merriam-Webster, the woke dictionary, on social media. Their tweets are part of the #redefineCRS campaign from Ajinomoto, the Japanese company started by the chemist who discovered how to isolate MSG. Over email to the New York Times, Huang spoke for, well, everyone who knows writing, “I was shocked that Chinese Restaurant Syndrome was an actual term in a dictionary.” Mai added to the paper that hearing the definition “hurt because I know it’s steeped in decades of xenophobia” but doesn’t believe it “should be simply removed” but redefined.
In response to the campaign, Merriam-Webster senior editor Emily Brewster tells Vice they don’t have records of anyone contacting them about the term before and that the entry will be reviewed. She also added that the dictionary’s aim is to provide accurate information about the meaning of words, including “providing information about whether a use is offensive or dated.”
In a comment to the Times, Brewster writes over email, “we record the language — we do not create, sanction or promote any specific words; the language’s speakers do this, and we provide a record of this use.”