Following the tragedy in South Carolina, the issue of race and racism is a hot topic in the media. Actually, it is an issue that is not far from the surface in the US. Almost any controversial issue or individual will sooner or later will make a racial connection. This includes food. Yes, what you eat, what you like to eat, or what you serve your guests may get you labeled a racist.

Food has always had a racial connection. Since most food is cultural and different people groups have different food preferences, it is only natural that different races of people eat differently.  Social and economic status also has ties to food with different classes of people having different diets based on access and affordability. But now it seems that your food choices can get you labeled a racist.

Verenice Gutierrez, the principal of Harvey Scott K-8 School, a public school in Portland, Oregon, has decided that eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches is racist. At first I thought this might be because these sandwiches are usally served on white bread or that peanut butter always got top billing over jelly, you never heard of a jelly and peanut butter sandwich. But alas what prompted the racist claim against the PB&J was far more idiotic. Her logic goes like this: Peanut butter and jelly is racist–because some immigrant groups don’t eat them. “What about Somali or Hispanic students, who might not eat sandwiches?” Gutierrez said in an interview with the Portland Tribute. “Another way would be to say: ‘Americans eat peanut butter and jelly, do you have anything like that?’ Let them tell you. Maybe they eat torta. Or pita.”  As you might expect, this has put Ms. Gutierrez in the middle of a national controversy. While I hope her views on the PB&J will result in her reassignment, it is quite possible Ms. Gutierrez will be seen as a hero. There is a growing sentiment in this country that the choices we make might offend someone and thus we should be prohibited from making them. Using Gutierrez logic, stores should not sell bacon, because it would offend Muslims and some Jewish people.

This phenomena is rapidly going international. What one country sees as normal and acceptable can be offensive to another and spark an international crisis. For example, in some Asian nations the eating of dog meat is perfectly acceptable and has been going on for centuries. Yet, the annual summer dog meat festival held in Yulin, China is under attack by dog lovers in the U.S. who are outraged. Local residents in Yulin are mystified by the outrage, they don’t see the difference between dogs and other domesticated animals like cows, pigs, and chickens that are consumed in the U.S.

The PB&J sandwich was invented at a Boston Cooking school in 1901, but did not become mainstream until about 1920. It is estimated that, on average, Americans in the U.S. will consume 1,500 of these sandwiches by the time they graduate from high school. Obviously the popularity of the PB&J is strong, and eating one is not seen as a racial statement by most “normal” people. Yet, if we let the nutcase fringe dictate our food choices based on imagined offences or dietary ethnocentrism, about the only food item left for us to consume will be water.

By Gary Truitt