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Jenny Yang, comedian, writer and actor, is dispelling myths around MSG and “clean eating” with a clever campaign — developed with Ajinomoto, a Japanese multinational food and biotechnology corporation — called #DinnerWithGoop.
The dinner, which was held Sept. 7 at The Gourmandise School in Santa Monica was not attended by Gwyneth Paltrow or any other representatives from her popular wellness platform Goop. Yang extended the invitation in an effort to start a fact-based conversation surrounding “clean eating,” a lifestyle and diet Goop promotes, and how she believes it is ultimately problematic because it propagates the idea that the way many people eat is impure and assigns moral value to food choices.
“Food has been a lifelong passion of mine because it’s so tied with my culture, it’s so tied with identity,” Yang told The Hollywood Reporter Wednesday night. “When I became a comedian and built a following online, talking back to people who would malign ingredients or foods that represented my culture became one of my favorite things to talk about. [Goop] was calling MSG not clean eating when that’s not even backed by scientific evidence … so this was a natural fit for me.”
Yang’s relationship with Ajinomoto (which produces and sells seasonings, including MSG) started in 2020 during the earliest months of the pandemic when the company asked her to be a part of their #TakeOutHate campaign, which was kickstarted because they predicted that the Asian community would get backlash because of the origins of the coronavirus. (Margaret Cho, Harry Shum Jr. and Gail Simmons participated too.)
“If you think about how Asian-American representation happens in this country, people immediately think of food. That’s one of the more prominent formats where we have influence on the culture,” Yang says. “[Goop] put their flag in the sand and said MSG is not clean eating, therefore dirty. There’s a huge history of demonizing MSG for what it represented — it was very much connected to Chinese restaurants and people. There’s a lot of baggage with MSG, and I don’t think they’ve been thinking about this when they call it dirty.”
The dinner last night featured Laos dishes with a California flair from L.A.-based Chef Saeng Douangdara, like rehydrated sticky rice, Lao meatballs and spaghetti, chicken laab rice-paper tacos and Hong Shao Rou braised pork. All of the items had MSG present, but the first course — a lemongrass cold corn soup — was offered in MSG and non-MSG versions, so guests could taste the difference. It was stark. (When monosodium glutamate is present in food, the glutamate binds to the umami — or, the fifth taste — receptor on eaters’ tongues, creating a more savory sensation.)
Dr. Tia Rains, vp of customer engagement and strategic development at Ajinomoto North America, is committed to working on getting more food and culture media to talk about misconceptions around MSG (which has a long history of being perceived as unhealthy, despite science proving it has two-thirds less sodium than table salt) and ingredients associated with certain cultures. “I believe in bringing the truth about food and food ingredients to the public. MSG is safe and can not only be used as a food enhancer but also to reduce sodium anywhere from 30 to 50 percent. My background is in nutrition science, and so, to me, that’s extremely important when 9 out of 10 Americans overconsume the amount of sodium you should be having for a healthy diet,” she said. Adding, “Unfortunately, it’s very prevalent that ultimately what [some platforms are] doing is misleading the American public into diets that are not in their best interest. Anyone who has a health and wellness platform should be echoing the [science’s] sentiment of what makes a healthy diet.”
Despite common misperceptions, MSG has been deemed safe by the FDA, the World Health Organization (WHO) and many more reputable health organizations. Common foods that have MSG are parmesan cheese, ranch dressing, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, nutritional yeast, soups, savory snacks and other prepared foods.
Yang and other attendees from the dinner allege that since this campaign has been underway, Goop has clandestinely removed articles mentioning MSG or added disclaimers. “I’m always very attuned when someone with power and influence like Goop tries to get in on the conversation by calling something from my culture either good or bad, clean or dirty,” Yang says. “I think the company is smart enough that if they really thought about it, they would correct themselves. We’re not trying to demonize Goop, but we truly are just trying to have a conversation.”
THR reached out to Goop and had not heard back at the time of publication.
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