For the past few days, I’ve had numerous friends ask me about my thoughts on Ree Drummond, better known as the Food Network’s Pioneer Woman. She’s certainly divisive, but I’ve never had many opinions about her, good or bad; she exists, and she brings some people joy, which I can’t and won't take away.
Lately, a five-year old clip from her show has been making the rounds online, involving Drummond prepping “Asian wings” for a cabal of hungry men.Thick Dumpling Skin, a podcast and blog staffed entirely by Asian Americans, surfaced the clip last week with the suggestion that it was subtly, but virulently, stoking timeworn anti-Asian sentiment. Take a look:
There’s a lot going on in this choppily edited, frenetic clip. It’s difficult to make sense of on the first watch, but I think I’ve decoded it after 30 views: Drummond plays a prank on the good old wing-hungry boys of her house. She brings out a spread of sesame-coated chicken wings from her oven, shocking the men. “Where are the real wings?” one befuddled man asks. Another weighs in: “I don’t trust ’em,” he claims of the Asian wings. Drummond, after playing fake for a bit, clears it up: She’s just joshing. "I wouldn't do that to you," she replies. She brings out the real American Buffalo wings, the jokester. (I'd take these maligned "Asian wings" over Buffalo wings any day.)
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This incident has initiated a typical call-and-response; look at the replies to that tweet for the gradient of opinions it's generated. Since Thick Dumpling Skin posted the clip last week, there’s been a growing chorus online of people asking the Food Network to take the episode out of rotation. Drummond has yet to issue a formal response to this controversy, though, according to HollywoodLife, a source close to Drummond says she doesn’t understand what the big fuss is about, that it’s mere “PC madness.” It's a sentiment that her supporters share. Some, of course, have insisted that this is a non-controversy, sticking to the playbook of lamenting about the sensitivities of a preciously apolitical space like food.
Anyone who’s skeptical of these claims may be swayed by the more salient point that Thick Dumpling Skin has tried to make. It's pointed out that the Food Network is, in general, shoddy when it comes to portraying the depth and variety of cuisines from Asia; that this Pioneer Woman segment, a mere 30 seconds, is a symptom of the mockery leveled against Asian food on the network. (Never mind that Asia is an impossibly large continent, and that we may very well start by clarifying and giving more nuance to a label like "Asian food.")
When it comes to this particular controversy, I’ll be honest—it’s got a slightly irksome undertone I can't quite place. And even if you don't agree with their read on this segment, there's something crummy about knowing that the concerns of some Asian Americans protesting this clip have been dismissed offhand. To the suggestion that the episode be taken out of rotation, well, I’m of mixed minds; let this gaffe live for the world to see! And, more importantly, please get this show some new editors.
What's your take on this segment? Let us know in the comments.
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.