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Code Switch Roundup: Status Symbols, Sriracha And Soul Food

The maker of the popular Thai hot sauce Sriracha hot sauce is under fire — get it? —  for allegedly fouling the air around its Southern California production site.
Nick Ut
The maker of the popular Thai hot sauce Sriracha hot sauce is under fire — get it? — for allegedly fouling the air around its Southern California production site.

Here are some things we've been musing on over the last few days. Share yours on Twitter or shout us out in the comments below.

"We shine because they hate us/floss 'cuz they degrade us." After two young, black customers accused the high-end retailer Barneys of racially profiling them after they made expensive purchases there, those customers themselves came in for criticism. Just why were these kids who probably aren't rich spending their money so recklessly?

On her blog, the ever-sharp Tressie McMillian Cottom pushes back on all the tut-tutting about why poor people buy pricey merchandise.

"Why do poor people make stupid, illogical decisions to buy status symbols?" she asked. "For the same reason all but only the most wealthy buy status symbols, I suppose."

Cottom went on:

We want to belong. And, not just for the psychic rewards, but belonging to one group at the right time can mean the difference between unemployment and employment, a good job as opposed to a bad job, housing or a shelter, and so on. Someone mentioned on twitter that poor people can be presentable with affordable options from Kmart. But the issue is not about being presentable. Presentable is the bare minimum of social civility. It means being clean, not smelling, wearing shirts and shoes for service and the like. Presentable as a sufficient condition for gainful, dignified work or successful social interactions is a privilege. It's the aging white hippie who can cut the ponytail of his youthful rebellion and walk into senior management while aging black panthers can never completely outrun the effects of stigmatization against which they were courting a revolution. Presentable is relative and, like life, it ain't fair.

Was The Racist Non-Tipper Story A Hoax? Toni Christina Jenkins, a Red Lobster server, was flooded with donations after she said that a patron stiffed her on a tip and left a racist message ("None, Nigger") on her bill. But the customer who allegedly left the message on his receipt says she fabricated the whole story.

The customer in question, Devin Barnes, has now filed a lawsuit against Jenkins stating that he did not write the racist remark. Barnes says he and his wife went out to eat at Red Lobster on September 7th but due to a family emergency they had to switch their order to-go. He says he did not leave the waitress a tip and wrote "none" on the tip line, but did not write anything else.

My boss Matt Thompson likes to make the (compelling!) argument that our tipping culture invites these kinds of incidents, that it's fundamentally unjust to underpaid servers (and black patrons and servers especially).

(And just for giggles, wanted to share this Onion story: "I'm Kind Of OCD About Always Serving White Customers First.")

Sriracha's Hot, But Not In Their Back Yards. Over the last few years, the Thai hot sauce Sriracha has quickly become the unofficial hot sauce of foodies. But the folks in the California town where the hot sauce is made say that the town is blanketed in a noxious, chili-flavored cloud.

Irwindale filed suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Monday against the sauce's company Huy Fong Foods, alleging that the odor was a public nuisance and asking a judge to stop production.

Irwindale City Manager John Davidson said he had noticed the odor, both at City Hall and just outside the plant.

"It's pretty strong," he said.

The plant can produce up to 200,000 bottles of the hot sauce each day.

David Tran, chief executive and founder, has offered to do what he can to control the odor and the company has twice added filters to its exhaust vents. But he says the chiles are pungent for a reason — it makes for a better sauce.

"If it doesn't smell, we can't sell," Tran said. "If the city shuts us down, the price of Sriracha will jump a lot."

A judge ruled Thursday that the factory can continue to operate at least until a forthcoming hearing, according to the L.A. Times.

Soul Food's Contested History. Since we're talking about fights over foods, it's worth shouting out this essay by Michael Twitty at The American Prospect, who takes issue with the parade of recent culinary histories of soul food.

The story of soul is not only about leftovers or economic expediency, and soul food is no ailing cultural bastard. It is the cuisine of Du Bois's "double consciousness," edible jazz, the most surreptitious means of preserving African culture. Thinking back to the St. Louis restaurant, Miller's premise that soul food is unknown isn't exactly honest or realistic. Soul-food restaurants routinely bring crowds of non–African Americans in for a bite. I wouldn't advocate for culinary justice if African American heritage foods were not being constantly remixed by white hipster chefs and others and re-spun as pan-"Southern" cuisine brought into the 21st century. Still, "soul food" when not cooked by soul hands is often labeled "Southern style," and the salty, spicy, sweet, greasy element that Miller posits as soul taste gets amplified, not toned down. The same principle makes Yum Brands rich through Kentucky Fried Chicken, the worldwide leader in watered down, mass-marketed soul. The world may not call it soul, but we know that the "Colonel" is perpetually playing Jolson.

Another News Outlet Drops 'Redskins.' The San Francisco Chronicle announced this week that it was going to stop referring to Washington D.C.'s NFL team as the 'Redskins.'

"Words are powerful, and so is how we choose to use them," Cooper said in an email.

"Our long-standing policy is to not use racial slurs — and make no mistake, 'redskin' is a slur — except in cases where it would be confusing to the reader to write around it. For example, we will use the team name when referring to the controversy surrounding its use."

The paper said it will instead refer to the Redskins as "Washington" on its pages.

The Chronicle's the latest in a parade of papers making similar decisions surrounding the team: at least 76 news outlets have now opted to use some other nomenclature for the team, according to a new analysis by Pew.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Gene Demby is the co-host and correspondent for NPR's Code Switch team.
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