A breakfast brand in the United States received backlash online after Twitter users found that its founder claimed to have "improved" and "modernised" congee, a staple dish in many Asian cultures
According to TODAY, many people were unhappy to learn that the founder of Breakfast Cure, Karen Taylor, had dubbed herself the "Queen of Congee" and made several remarks across her company's website that implies congee was an exotic, lesser food until she adapted it for the Western palate.
Although certain sections have since been edited, numerous screenshots of the Breakfast Cure website have made its way to social media and news portals.
In a blog post that was previously entitled 'How I discovered the miracle of congee and improved it', Taylor wrote, "I've spent a lot of time modernising (congee) for the Western pallet (sic) – making a congee that you can eat and find delicious and doesn't seem foreign, but delivers all of the medicinal healing properties of this ancient recipe."
Taylor wrote she was introduced to congee over 25 years ago while in "Chinese medical school" in New Mexico and has continued to eat it to aid her digestion
"When I was in acupuncture school, I had an amazing young brilliant American teacher who taught me about congee... She said, you know, just try it, and I loved it. It was surprising to me how good it felt in my stomach," she said in a video interview on the website.
In the same interview, she referred to congee as a "sort of weird thing" that Americans needed to be confident and comfortable making in their own homes.
Throughout the website, she also makes medical claims about the "healing effects of this ancient recipe" and includes a link to an article she published in the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, where the acupuncturist refers to herself as a "physician of Asian medicine".
On Breakfast Cure, Taylor sells various flavours of packaged "gourmet, foodie" versions of congee, which she hopes will "become a common household food", because, even though it has been part of Asian cuisine since the start of time, she is on a "new frontier".
The congee — made out of various types of rice, berries, fruits, and nuts — costs USD14.95 (RM63) per packet, or USD263 (RM1,110) per month for a 20-pack subscription.
Many Twitter users, mostly Asian, critisised Taylor for calling herself a congee pioneer and accused her of cultural appropriation
Some said that while she had heavily-referenced Chinese traditional healing, there was a lack of association to the dish's Asian roots or support for its people.
"So, a group of colonisers decided to culturally appropriate congee. Good lord," said a Twitter user, who made a thread of everything she found debatable about the brand.
"Oh God, it's like the mahjong shit all over again," said another netizen.
"Why the hell do white people keep taking ordinary Asian stuff and acting like they discovered some ancient mystical secret and selling their own shittier version for five times the price?"
Another Twitter user said, "A white woman really woke up one day and was like 'apple cinnamon oatmeal but make it congee' and charged people USD14.95 for it."
Meanwhile, someone else joked, "Karen, millionth of her name, queen of the congee, coloniser of the five treasures, speaker to the managers, the untouched by the sun, etc."
Following the backlash, Breakfast Cure updated its website with new language and apologised for not honouring the Asian American community
"We take full responsibility for any language on our website or in our marketing and have taken immediate steps to remedy that and educate ourselves," the company posted on Instagram.
"... Revising our mission to not just creating delicious breakfast meals, but becoming a better ally for the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community."
It also said they will donate 1% of all sales or 10% of profit, whichever is larger, to AAPI rights group Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
Taylor also told TODAY that she was surprised by the response because she had been "embraced by the Chinese medicine community" when she first launched the product.
However, she said she and her team will be making more changes, including to their tagline, and are still evaluating the language that had offended people.