“Taste the Lin-sanity” is the name of a special ice cream flavor that Ben & Jerry’s has created to recognize / jump on the bandwagon for Jeremy Lin. The 23-year-old basketball player has been closely watched since he came off the New York Knicks’ bench and started playing at a level others had not expected. Lin played for Harvard University’s team while a student there and Ben & Jerry’s is making “Taste the Lin-sanity” available only for a limited time at its Harvard Square shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
One of the original ingredients in “Taste the Lin-sanity” was fortune cookie pieces. These were removed after customers accused Ben & Jerry’s of “ethnic profiling,” according to The San Francisco Chronicle. “Taste the Lin-sanity” now includes vanilla frozen yogurt, lychee honey swirls and, on the side, a fresh waffle cookie. Lychees are a fruit indigenous to Southern China though “so far, no one seems to have taken offense at that slightly subtler ethnic reference,” notes The Atlantic Wire.
Ben & Jerry’s says that the fortune cookie pieces were taken out because they got “soggy.” As Ryan Midden, Ben & Jerry’s general manager for Boston and Cambridge, said to the Boston Globe, “There seemed to be a bit of an initial backlash about it, but we obviously weren’t looking to offend anybody and the majority of the feedback about it has been positive.”
Fortune cookies were invented in the US; though routinely served in Chinese restaurants in the US, they are not part of Chinese cuisine (indeed, fortune cookies with messages in English are now exported to Hong Kong and China). In mid-February, the MSG Network showed Lin’s face above a fortune cookie with the message “The Knicks’ good fortune” below. Andrew Kang, senior staff attorney at the Asian-American Institute in Chicago, told USA Today that it is a “tough call” about whether MSG should be faulted for the graphic. Kang points out that, for many people, food is the “only point of contact, or awareness, with the Asian-American community.”
MSG’s use of the fortune cookie in its graphic underscores how limited many people’s understanding of Asian Americans is. Ben & Jerry’s would have done well to take heed of the concerns about the MSG graphic and of a much-publicized ESPN racist headline that led to the firing of an ESPN headline writer and a 30-day suspension for anchor Max Bretos (whose wife is Asian) for using the same racist phrase on the air on February 15.
Lin has gained media attention not only for his playing and for being the first Asian American player to become an “overnight NBA sensation.” Popular media outlets would do well to sit down and review the history of racism and discrimination against Asians and Asian Americans in the US. Do we all remember Vincent Chin? Regret Executive Order 9066, not to mention the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882?
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Photo by Jay Santiago