Trader Joe’s may be our favorite place to pick up a few bottles of inexpensive wine on the weekend and the number one spot we turn to when stocking up on frozen foods that don’t actually suck (cheap wine and frozen food, aka the quarantine diet), but if you’ve ever paid attention to the labels on some of their products, you may have noticed something a little disturbing. For years now, TJ’s labels for some of their internationally-inspired foods were downright offensive, but now, thanks to a Change.org petition, the chain is fast-tracking their plans to update the labels.
For a second I wondered if this was too much political correctness. But then I thought about how I'd feel if kosher foods were sold under the label "Trader Hymie's". The intent may have been innocent, but time to end this https://t.co/3w5lMF0zwe
— Paul Krugman (@paulkrugman) July 20, 2020
How exactly can a food label be offensive? Well, instead of keeping the Trader Joe’s moniker on pantry items like salsa verde and stir fry sauce, the company used names like “Trader Jose” and “Trader Ming’s,” which, according to Briones Bedell, the 17-year old who started the petition, “is racist because it exoticizes other cultures — it presents ‘Joe’ as the default ‘normal’ and the other characters falling outside of it.” Props to this teenager for calling out Trader Joe’s faux pas when many adults seemed to not even notice the issue.
Thankfully, the brand has already been working on updating these product labels to remove the exoticized names, but the Change.org petition brought new attention to the issue. The company responded that “While this approach to product naming may have been rooted in a lighthearted attempt at inclusiveness, we recognize that it may now have the opposite effect.” Though the company now says that they should complete the rebranding of the products in question soon, Bedell wants the company to commit to a timeline for when the changes will take place, since the company has allegedly been in the process of making the name changes for a few years now.
It may not seem like a dire issue compared to things like police brutality, the carceral state, and the institutional racism being protested across the country in recent months, but it’s just another example of the microaggressions that people of color face on a daily basis in the US. Hopefully Trader Joe’s can speed up the process of updating their labels to prove to their customers that they understand the need for anti-racist action, not only to make shoppers feel comfortable in their stores, but to be part of a national wave of reform that can set an example for other retailers and businesses as well.
And if they don’t? Well, at least you can still make Everything But the Bagel seasoning at home!
Don’t feel like shopping at TJ’s? Check out our gallery of Trader Joe’s products you can get at Walmart, below: