Does The Term 'Ethnic Food' Help or Hurt Race Relations?

What’s the best term for food from different countries?

Photo Modified: Flickr/ Run Mizumushi-Kun/ CCBY-SA4.0

Is calling non-American food "ethnic" politically incorrect?

When we talk about the cuisines of other countries, the umbrella term we tend to use is “ethnic food,” But is using this term in fact politically incorrect?

When you’re in a supermarket, take a look at the aisle names and you’ll most likely encounter one offering “ethnic foods.” This is where they stock the likes of soy sauce, Asian noodle kits, Jamaican hot sauces, and Indian curries. When discussing what to eat for dinner, we might consider ordering “ethnic food” after ruling out pizza, chicken, or burgers. But what exactly does “ethnic” food mean? Should we find a different way to classify food that isn’t what we consider to be “American?”

The definition of ethnic is “of or relating to a population subgroup (within a larger or dominant national or cultural group) with a common national or cultural tradition,” but it tends to imply simply “other,” a minority group that’s not us. “Ethnic” food lumps all non-American food into one big category, and grouping people and their cultures into an “other” category is something that shouldn’t be done lightly.

So does calling the food of other countries “ethnic” help or hurt race relations? It’s hard to say, and it’s not each to find a word to serve as a suitable substitute. But the more you think about it, the more that you realize the term’s political incorrectness. 

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