Reactions to the fast-spreading Coronavirus range up and down the long meat thermometer of rationality. The act of roosting at home may be said to occupy the sensible, cool lower tip, while obsessively licking subway handholds might register where the mercury can rise no further. Between those two regions, meanwhile, lie a myriad of other decisions taken in the day-to-day management of life under threat of pandemic; some err towards the former approach, some the latter.
Bushwick’s own Yummy 88, a small take-out Chinese restaurant on the corner of Wilson and Willoughby streets, may be a victim of what we suspect is one of the more hysteria-prone decisions being made by people in New York: eschewing east Asian restaurants because of the virus’ origin.
Earlier this week, the establishment sent customers this message: “With all the rumors around Coronavirus, we wanted to let you know that none of our staff has recently traveled to any place affected by the virus & none of the 15 confirmed cases in the US is related to Chinese restaurants…We hope you choose facts over fear & support our small business in this difficult time.”
New Yorkers aren’t the only statesiders avoiding Chinese restaurants. Eater Los Angeles reports that three Chinese restaurants within their purview have been forced to shut down for lack of business. Seattle has also been hard hit: one restaurateur, interviewed by the Seattle Times, described a customer turning tail and leaving after being informed of a menu item hailing from the Chinese Wuhan region, site of coronavirus’ patient zero.
Of course, it’s not always easy to untangle the downtick suffered by Chinese restaurants from the larger downward trend in the wider food service industry; they are far from the only places affected by the coronavirus and its concomitant negative consequences. But offering further evidence of disproportionality is the fact that Chinatowns around the country, including New York’s, have seen a whopping 50% reduction in foot traffic since the outbreak was reported late last year.
And there are those who see very little ambiguity when analyzing the coronavirus’ impact on the restaurant industry.
“Honestly, it sounds almost silly to say, but there’s a lot of restaurants that are feeling the pain of racism,” opined New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Instagram Live last Tuesday night. “People are literally not patronizing Chinese restaurants. It’s straight up racism.”
The junior rep.’s sentiment was echoed by that of food writer Jenny G. Zhang, who wrote that the disease’s spread has had a “decidedly dehumanizing effect, reigniting old strains of racism and xenophobia that frame Chinese people as uncivilized, barbaric ‘others’ who bring with them dangerous, contagious diseases.”
Racism or not, it’s easy to see avoidance of Chinese restaurants as deriving from the same poorly informed, knee-jerk reasoning that seems to sprout up like toadstools in times of crisis. Before you avoid kung pao for baba ganoush, then, a minute’s reflection may be in order.
Cover Image Courtesy of Yummy 88
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