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Whole Foods sparks outrage over Asian restaurant called 'Yellow Fever'

Owner says she chose the name because it was 'shocking'

Chelsea Ritschel,Alex Matthews-King
Saturday 28 April 2018 21:37 BST
Restaurant owner Kelly Kim, originally from South Korea, said the company had received no criticism until teaming up with Whole Foods
Restaurant owner Kelly Kim, originally from South Korea, said the company had received no criticism until teaming up with Whole Foods (Yellow Fever/ Whole Foods 365)

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Louise Thomas

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A newly-opened California restaurant selling Asian-inspired cuisine within a branch of Whole Foods has caused controversy for its name, Yellow Fever, which locals said was “racist” and had offensive sexual connotations.

The small Korean-owned chain has been operating in Los Angeles for several years and has two other outlets, but the owners say it only attracted criticism after opening a branch at organic and health food store.

Critics on social media said “yellow fever” was slang for the fetishisation of Asian women, and objected to the international grocery chain profiting from making light of that.

The opening was announced in a tweet that read: “All ready for lunch? #YellowFeverEats has you covered with fresh, customised bowls at our brand-new #longbeach365 location - open now!”

Shortly after the tweet, people began to criticise Whole Foods and the restaurant, calling the name racially insensitive.

“Who thought this name was okay?” asked one person on Twitter.

Another said: “I can’t believe that’s real. How the hell did that make it out of a first pitch meeting? Gross”

Others were quick to explain why the name “Yellow Fever” is problematic.

One woman tweeted: “No one at the company even bothered Googling yellow fever?” attached a photo which showed the term “yellow fever” is considered the same as an Asian fetish - where it is defined as: “an interest, obsession, or preference for Asian people, culture, or things of Asian descent by those of non-Asian descent".

The term “yellow” is also considered offensive, as it has been used as a slur to refer to those of Asian descent.

And “yellow fever” originally referred to the name of a deadly disease spread by mosquitoes and commonly found in subtropical areas of Africa, South America, Central America, and the Caribbean.

The virus attacks the liver and kidneys resulting in jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes which gives the disease its name.

Though it can be easily prevented with vaccines, a recent wave of anti-vaccination sentiment has fuelled one of the worst outbreaks in decades in Brazil, with more than 200 deaths already this season.

The restaurant is not owned by Whole Foods, and is instead part of an independent chain of restaurants co-founded by Kelly Kim.

Kim, who is from South Korea, has previously explained her reasoning behind the restaurant’s name.

In an interview with Next Shark, Kim said: “When we finally came up with the concept, all the names we thought of just plain sucked. Buzzwords like ‘traditional’, ‘bamboo’, ‘lotus’, and ‘golden’ weren’t memorable.

“One night, we just said ‘Yellow Fever!’ and it worked. It’s tongue-in-cheek, kind of shocking, and it’s not exclusive — you can fit all Asian cultures under one roof with a name like this. We just decided to go for it,” she said.

And according to Kim, who spoke to CBS News, she did not face a backlash until she partnered with Whole Foods, having been in business for four years.

Bryn Inks, a Long Beach, California resident speaking to CBS Los Angeles outside the new store, said: “I was shocked, I find it offensive. It’s basically suggesting a sexual connotation towards Asians.”

“Aside from the obvious fetish thing, it's also still a fatal illness,” said one person on Twitter.

The Independent contacted Whole Foods for comment.

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