Warning About the Hazards of MSG Can Be Hazardous to Your Reputation

Heap of monosodium glutamate on wooden spoon and dark background with text MSG
monosodium glutamateBy Linda bonvie and Bill Bonvie

Being accused of racism these days is no small matter. And those of Asian descent have seen an increase in incidents of racism targeting them.

So, when a reader review at Amazon.com appeared about our book, “A Consumer’s Guide to Toxic Food Additives,” accusing us of “promoting myths rooted in racism,” it was a bit of a shock, to say the least.

This reviewer, whose comment is called the “top” one from the U.S. (also somehow bumping any other reviews into obscurity), was in fact simply parroting information gleaned from various “news” stories appearing across the web.

It may sound crazy, but just by including warnings about consuming MSG in that book, we now were being accused of spreading a “myth deeply rooted in xenophobia.” In effect, consumer protection had somehow become redefined as ethnic bigotry directed specifically at Asian Americans.

You may be wondering, as we were, just where such a bizarre idea could have originated, and the answer is one that clearly shows how much influence PR agencies – especially large, well- connected ones – have over media of all sizes these days.

It stands to reason that manufacturers of questionable additives would attempt to counter warnings about their products with whatever industry-sponsored hype they could devise. But never did charges of “racism” enter into it until the “global communications” firm Edelman Public Relations entered the scene. They are being paid millions of dollars by Ajinomoto, the world’s largest manufacturer of monosodium glutamate, to conjure up the concept that legitimate concerns about the safety of MSG were nothing but racist myths.

Taking a cue from the removal of “misinformed historical symbols,” according to an Edelman press release, the Ajinomoto creative team apparently had an ‘aha moment’ when it coined “xenophobia-born misinformation” in an attempt to divert attention away from any negative science and adverse reactions associated with MSG.

Has it worked? If you go by the amount of media coverage received, such as this headline at CNN saying, MSG in Chinese food isn’t unhealthy – you’re just racist, activists say, this imaginary imagery seems to have taken hold, even filtering down to that “reader review” of our book. But Edelman, despite its ability to have media lists at its beck and call to run articles on how the term “No MSG,” constitutes racism, can’t seem to even monitor its own client list for conflicts of interest.

A question sent to the Del Monte press office about its College Inn broth product, for example, took a surprising turn with a return email from an Edelman representative speaking on the company’s behalf.

Being that the College Inn product sports a rather large “No MSG” symbol on the package front, we asked our Edelman contact if, according to their own high-profile campaign, that would constitute the same type of “racism” and “xenophobia” that we were accused of.products containing no MSG

But despite several attempts to elicit an answer, Edelman has now gone dark on us. (We wondered if Del Monte would be looking for another PR firm should its executives connect the dots.)

Which only goes to show how even the best-intentioned causes, such as shining a spotlight on racism, can be distorted and manipulated by industry shills to cast other good causes, such as consumer protection, in a bad light.

Only in this case, the fact remains that keeping MSG out of your diet is no more “racist” than avoiding apple pie sweetened with HFCS is “un-American.”


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