Leaving on a Jet Plane

Chrissy Teigen is not here for your ‘Oriental’ dressing, but not for the reason you think

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Chrissy Teigen probably flies on a lot of planes. I do not know this for sure because Chrissy has yet to invite me over to the home she shares with John Legend to eat a dinner she cooked from her cookbook, but it’s a pretty safe assumption. Chrissy Teigen is a model. She is the host of Celebrity Lip Sync Battle. She has a baby.

On one of her recent flights, Chrissy noticed something that was not right. The dressing she was brought, probably in an individual serving packet to go with her in-flight salad, had a funny name. The dressing was called “Oriental.”

Chrissy Teigen is not too mad about the “Oriental” dressing. It just seems… dumb to her.

Of course, “Oriental” isn’t a word that makes any sense at all. It’s a broad lumping together of pretty much everything Asia that was used by colonizers in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the modern era (even for people over 50), the use of the term “orient” has been thoroughly problematic. In his very definitive 1978 book Orientalism, Edward Said argued that cultural representations of the “orient” are just patronizing fictional depictions of the “East.” Basically, according to Said, Western scholars weren’t studying the East to really understand it; they were studying it to make themselves feel superior.

I have no idea if Chrissy Teigen has read this seminal work of literary and cultural theory. But I do know that Chrissy Teigen’s mother is from Thailand and that she thinks you should probably just use the word “Asian,” which denotes a continent instead of an outdated Western theory about the East.

Some people are offended by the use of Oriental as a term to describe all Eastern cultures, and they have a right to be. It’s generalist and avoids nuance, and has been used for decades as a disparaging term. Many of these people saw Teigen’s comment as an open door to have this conversation about how the word made them feel. But Teigen didn’t want to call this offensive. In fact, she backed up and explained that she wasn’t offended. This wasn’t some kind of campaign. She was just, well, annoyed.

I looked up six different recipes for “Oriental” dressing. Here is a list of some ingredients they included: soy sauce, ginger, pepper, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, corn syrup, roasted sesame seeds, safflower oil, white vinegar, HONEY, and salt.

As you might have guessed, literally none of the “oriental” dressing recipes were the same. “Oriental” dressing apparently just means “one ingredient is maybe from Asian cuisine,” which is a pretty good metaphor for why this term is outdated. “Oriental” doesn’t mean anything to anyone except white people who view different cultures as Other. The Orient isn’t a place, so how could it possible have good dressing?

 

Chrissy Teigen is right. Regardless of whether she finds it personally offensive, Oriental is an outdated and meaningless word. It shouldn’t be used for salad dressing, or anything at all.