MSG fears

of one

Case Studies of MSG Fears Stemming from Xenophobia

Although no results came up after an exhaustive search for case studies that focused on MSG fears rooted in xenophobia, U.S. articles that tackled the subject were abundant, and information from these articles were consistent with each other, lending to the articles' credibility. Particularly, one undergraduate research was available in detailing the mid-20th century racism in the U.S. with regard to MSG and the Chinese. All the articles repetitively mentioned a 1968 letter to the New England Journal of Medicine that sparked the American frenzy over MSG. From there, limited scientific studies, particularly John Olney's studies, were made to confirm the dangers of MSG, further stoking xenophobia against the Chinese.

A methodology outline can be found below. It can explain why there is a lack of case studies regarding MSG and xenophobia. A deep dive of findings can also be found after the methodology.


Exhaustive public domain searches on case studies focusing on MSG and xenophobia yielded no results, although numerous scientific studies on the safety or dangers of MSG were available. This lack of research was probably due to the preoccupation of scientific studies with MSG in terms of the natural sciences only. A case study on MSG and xenophobia would primarily belong to the social sciences and not the natural sciences, while the available scientific studies on MSG were all in the natural sciences. Thus, no research has yet been conducted that studies the correlation between MSG and xenophobia since no social scientist has yet initiated a study.

Because of this lack of research, articles about MSG and xenophobia were instead sought out. Results were many, and one article belonged to Columbia University's Undergraduate Research Journal (CURJ). This article was given the highest credibility in fulfilling this request, owing to the scientific rigor that underlay the research. Other articles were subsequently cross-referenced and double-checked using the CURJ article, confirming the credibility of these sources, as well as the credibility of the undergraduate research. Using these articles, findings on this request were compiled below.

MSG and Xenophobia

Thomas Germain's Columbia Undergraduate Research Journal study, "A Racist Little Hat: The MSG Debate and American Culture" detailed how American racism against the Chinese stoked the flames that led to the bad reputation of MSG in America.

Germain started with a brief history of MSG: it was first isolated in Japan in 1908 until, through the next 60 years, it found its way into Chinese and American cuisine as well. Things changed in 1968, however, when a Chinese immigrant wrote the editors of the New England Journal of Medicine about his set of symptoms that came after eating at Chinese restaurants. The editors found the letter humorous, and published it under the title, "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome". Regular Americans mistook the letter for actual medical opinion, however, and soon, Chinese food received a bad rap.

The issue grew when government agencies and the press tried to find explanations for CRS. These attempts soon implicated MSG found in Chinese food, and in turn, the Chinese, who cooked the food, were accused as well. The issue became even more cemented in the minds of Americans when, in the subsequent years, scientific articles were written, condemning MSG and indirectly condemning the Chinese even further. Of note were Dr. John Olney's studies that found defects on mice and primates when injected with MSG. Olney then initiated an anti-MSG movement that urged the FDA to ban MSG in the U.S. during the '70s. Olney was unsuccessful, however. Other research on the dangers of MSG were published, but research on the safety of MSG also appeared since then.

The battle over MSG, Germain noted, continues to this day, yet Germain linked MSG fear in the '60s and '70s to xenophobia based on the clear racial underpinnings of the anti-MSG issue from the onset. Germain took specific note of Mao Zedong's rise to power that made China a communist nation in 1949. This event scared Americans, since communism had been taught to be a wrong ideology. With this fear in mind, Germain surmised that linking MSG fears with the Chinese was easy.

Germain's article ended by advocating inclusivity with the Chinese via acceptance of MSG and doubling back on the racist frenzy that wrongly linked MSG, the Chinese, and health problems in the first place.

News media and videos

The National Post argued against the ill reputation of MSG, concluding that the fear of it stemmed from xenophobia and bad science.

The New York Times published an opinion article that analyzed a healthy diet, salt, MSG, and G.M.O.'s. The writer concluded that fear of MSG and other so-called "unhealthy" ingredients is a food problem that needs to be addressed. If people want to eat healthy, the writer suggested eliminating fear of food and specific ingredients.

TruTV's "Adam Ruins Everything" show aired an episode, "Adam Ruins Spa Day", that tackled the misconception about MSG, among other wellness myths.


In spite of the non-existent case studies about MSG fear stemming from xenophobia, an undergraduate research was found to support the theory with regard to '60s and '70s xenophobia against the Chinese. Furthermore, news media and a video were added to confirm the credibility of the undergraduate research. Fear of MSG started after a 1968 letter to the New England Journal of Medicine told of symptoms manifesting after eating at Chinese restaurants. Since then, scientific studies on the dangers of MSG, especially John Olney's studies, further encouraged the fear of MSG and the Chinese.