Taco Bell parent company appropriates banh mi, finds new target in Vietnamese for cultural insensitivity

The logo of Yum! Foods' newest endeavour, Banh Shop. Photo credit: Marc Lee
The logo of Yum! Foods’ newest endeavour, Banh Shop. Photo credit: Marc Lee

I’m not entirely sure what we expected from the company that interprets Mexican food as meat-gun applied mystery meat combined with American cheese and Doritos-flavored taco shells sold by a talking Chihuahua dog speaking in Spanglish.

This is not Mexican food.
This is not Mexican food.

Last month, Yum! Foods (parent company to Taco Bell) caused an internet stir with the news that it was venturing into the world of banh mi, which are basically Vietnamese sandwiches that combine meats and fillings from Vietnamese cuisine with a French baguette. A form of Vietnamese street food, mom-and-pop banh mi shops are quite popular, particularly in college towns. Yum! Foods, well known for its unabashed appropriation of Mexican food and culture in its Taco Bell brand to regurgitate a food that scarcely resembles the thing that serves as its cultural inspiration, saw an opportunity to do it all again.

This past week, Yum! Foods opened the flagship store for its new banh mi venture in Dallas Texas; and already, the company has managed to give us a Vietnamese version of a talking chihuahua dog.

Yum! Foods’ newest chain — called “Banh Shop” (which incidentally means “bread-like-foods shop”; “banh” is a word that refers to a large family of baked goods and typically is associated with qualifier suffix to clarify what kind of food we’re talking about — unveiled its logo over the past week, and horrified Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans. That logo, pictured above, includes the name of the restaurant in front of a red star and features the subtitle “Saigon Street Food”.

There’s just a couple of problems: the red five-pointed star is a symbol of communism, and appears in a yellow-starred variant on the Vietnamese flag of today, that was designed by the Vietnamese communists in the 1940’s who eventually overthrew French occupiers. However, the Vietnamese communist regime has since taking power been responsible for several wartime atrocities, particularly affecting those Vietnamese Americans who fled the country for the States during and after the Vietnam War.

The choice of the red communist star is further ironically insensitive in association with a banh mi shop. Banh mi is a form of Vietnamese fusion food that arose as a byproduct of French occupation and colonialization. Saigon is the name of Vietnam’s capital given to the city under independent rule before it fell to the communists. To combine this food (and this city name) with a symbol adopted by the regime who overthrew French occupation is just plain bizarre. To adorn a Vietnamese food restaurant with a red star would be equivalent to opening a Chinese food restaurant using a picture of Mao Zedong in the logo, while decorating the restaurant like the Forbidden City

The problem here is that Yum! Foods is clearly ignorant of Vietnamese political history, and further completely disinterested in learning about it. Instead, this is the Taco Bell model of cultural appropriation, which “justifies” the theft through a marketing campaign that unthinkingly combines  a hodge-podge of cultural facets to form a Frankenstein monster of cultural bastardization and caricature that fully disrespects the culture from which it draws inspiration.

It's so Mexican. You can tell because the dog is a chihuahua dog.
The food is so authentically Mexican. You can tell because the dog is a chihuahua and it’s speaking in Spanglish.

Live mas? Live mas racist, y’all.

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