Is the Ethnic Food Aisle Convenient or Another Form of Segregation?

In recent years, we’ve seen less and less of the blatantly offensive caricatures of Asians and Asian-Americans in the media. The entertainment industry has recently been staying away from exaggerated stereotypes and has instead been striving to provide more accurate representation for Asians. We can, however, still see orientalism in more subtle indignities, specifically the ethnic food aisle of the supermarket.

Why is it that French and Italian food is never referred to as ethnic, but Indian and Chinese food almost always is? The pasta, sauces, and cheeses typically associated with Italian cusine can usually be found anywhere in the supermarket, so why is it that products like soy sauce and soba noodles are always found in the ethnic aisle?

Does the ethnic aisle really make grocery shopping more convenient or does it segregate select ethnic groups from the rest of the supermarket and reinforce their position as “the other”? It seems as though the foods of different ethnic groups become part of the general supermarket once they are integrated into American cuisine. But is it a good thing to integrate Chinese, Japanese, and Indian food into American cuisine or does it take away the culural significance from the dishes? I genuinely don’t know the answer to that question and would love to hear from other students who indentify with ethnic groups assigned to the ethnic aisle.

5 thoughts on “Is the Ethnic Food Aisle Convenient or Another Form of Segregation?

  1. Geneva D

    This is a really good point and I have thought about this in the past. I’m not sure if it’s convenient or racist, but I think that if it were to be brought up to grocery stores, they would immediately say that it is meant for convenience. I also wonder if minorities have tried to bring this up in the past but they didn’t get enough voices to make a change.

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  2. Katie V.

    Personally, I wonder who it is supposed to be convenient for. Perhaps, I am wrong but I don’t think the ethnic food aisle is put together the way it is to make it easier for people of those ethnicities to find the foodstuffs they want. If you know what you are looking for you can just go to the area of the supermarket where that type of item is located. Though I suppose if the item doesn’t clearly fit into a category it might be harder to find.

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  3. Leah J

    This is so interesting I’ve never thought of it before. I wonder if there is a historical reason there, like if the people of certain ethnicities had their food placed in these aisle as some form of segregation and it just remained that way. This is definitely a question I would be interested in researching.

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  4. Zack T

    This is a really thought provoking post. I never thought about it this way that only Eastern food is usually labeled as ethnic. Although I do not think this is particularly offensive and should be changed, I feel like it does perpetrate xenophobia. It distances foreign cultures, further validating how they are different and strange from ours. I wonder what a more inclusive name would be…

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  5. Isabelle M

    I haven’t ever really thought about this before, but you bring up a very interesting point. The fact that “ethnic” means non-Western definitely feeds into the concept of Orientalism and otherizes Eastern cultures. Maybe it would make more sense to organize it into isles based on countries, or maybe it’s better to just get rid of it altogether.

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