Filipino Man Upset At Trader Joe’s, Demands A Trader JoMar’s Label

(Editor’s note: I know I just posted a TJ’s piece, and I swear I’m not picking on them. I just wanted to try my hand at satire, despite being thematically identical to my last post.)

Daly City, CA – National grocery chain, Trader Joe’s, has come under fire in the past year for labels they place on some of their products such as: Trader Ming’s, Trader Jose’s and Trader Giotto’s. According to this KQED article from July 2020, a petition started by high school senior, Briones Bedell, titled, Trader Joe’s Remove Racist Packaging From Your Products alleged that, “The Trader Joe’s branding is racist because it exoticizes other cultures — it presents ‘Joe’ as the default ‘normal’ and the other characters falling outside of it — they are ‘Arabian Joe,’ ‘Trader José,’ and ‘Trader Joe San.” and “belies a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes.” The petition is no longer accessible through‘s site.

Filipino Bay Area local, Danilo Lim, 43, is upset about the labels for a different reason. “I know you can’t tell if I’m Brazilian or Korean but that doesn’t mean I just want a bunch of Trader Jose’s and Trader Ming’s and Trader Joe San’s products,” Lim said as he filled his cart with Trader Jose’s Taco Shells, Trader Ming’s Mandarin Orange Chicken and Trader Joe San’s Sokayaki sauce. “Filipinos have a rich culinary tradition that deserves to be introduced to the rest of the world! Where are all the Trader JoMar’s products? How about some Trader JoMar’s kare kare sauce or Trader JoMar’s sinigang packets? Everyone loves sinigang, especially in this crappy Daly City weather.”

When informed of the petition and asked if such labels could be considered racist, he countered with, “Who started that petition? I bet it was some white kid, right? Listen, Trader Joe’s found a cool way to showcase food from all around the world. What’s racist about that? Point being, we’re the second largest Asian population in the US. Why are we so invisible?”

Ramesh Gupta, 38, also a Bay Area local who was shopping on the other side of the aisle replied, “Third largest now.”

“What?” Lim called back.

“Filipinos used to be the second largest Asian group in the US, but now you’re third. Behind Indians. But I’m not out here complaining that there’s no Trader Sanjay’s even though they sell stuff like this,” said Gupta, waving a packet of Jaipur Vegetables bearing the Trader Joe’s brand.

“What are you, a census taker?” Lim asked, clearly irate.

“Yeah,” Gupta replied.

“Oh.” Lim seemed momentarily stunned into silence.

“What you really should be asking is: What is this supposed to be?” Gupta asked, brandishing a package of Trader Ming’s Kung Pao Tempura Cauliflower. “Are they using Ming, a traditionally Chinese name, as a catch-all for all Asian food? I ain’t mad about Asian fusion, in this case Chinese and Japanese, but don’t put it under a Chinese header. That’s just disrespectful, man.”

“Does it taste good?” Lim asked.

Gupta paused. “Actually, yeah,” he said and tossed it into his cart. “ You should try it.”

Lim walked over and placed a package in his cart. When asked if he plans to boycott Trader Joe’s for their lack of Filipino representation he replied, “No way! I get all my groceries here! I’d starve to death without this place.” He then paid for his groceries and left with a friendly wave at Gupta.

Hey, Trader Joe’s! Not All Asian Food Is Chinese.

Probably should have taken this photo before opening the bag.
Photo credit: me. Yes, I took that photo. I know you thought it was done by a professional in a studio but, no. Just me, taking a photo of an open bag of food, half of the contents of which was consumed the week before.

I vaguely remember Trader Joe’s making noises about getting rid of all their ethnicized sub brand naming conventions like Trader Ming’s, Trader Jose’s, Trader Giotto’s. 

According to this July 2020 article, bowing to accusations of racism put forth by a petition, Trader Joe’s was gonna rebrand all their international food as just Trader Joe’s. (I would link to the original NY Times article buuuuut paywall.)  That article is 10 months old and, at the time, TJ’s spokesperson, Kenya Friend-Daniel said they were already in the process of changing out those names a looong time ago and not as a frantic response to some petition.

Then a few weeks later, TJ’s was like, “Hang on, that petition was started by some white high school kid?? Run it back!!” I don’t have the official minutes from that board meeting, but I’m sure that’s close to verbatim. This article quotes the store’s statement from July 24, 2020, “We want to be clear: we disagree that any of these labels are racist. We do not make decisions based on petitions.” “Especially by white high school kids,” was left unsaid.

Way to hang Kenya Friend-Daniel out to dry like that, though.

In today’s edition of trying to gin up controversy because I clearly have nothing better to do … Are we good with labeling this Trader Ming’s? Kung Pao is Chinese so that checks out, but tempura is Japanese. Has Trader Joe’s fallen victim to the worn out all-Asians-are-the-same trope and is using Trader Ming’s for all their Asian food? *gasp* (Should I maybe find another hobby besides trolling the aisles of Trader Joe’s? Signs point to “Maybe.”) Well, don’t grab your pitchforks yet ’cause …

A tasty Trader Joe San's sauce is the terrible cook's saving grace
A tasty Trader Joe San’s sauce is the terrible cook’s saving grace.

Hang on. How come China and Japan are the only Asian countries that get their own label? Filipinos are the third largest Asian population in the US. Plus our food frikkin’ rules. We demand a Trader JoMar’s ™ label! (As I arrogantly advocate for all Filipinos everywhere, not having focus grouped this idea with anyone at all.)

I digress.

Shouldn’t the Kung Pao Tempura Cauliflower be under the Trader Ming San label? Under the Trader Ming’s designation, it saddens me that the tempura part of the dish may feel neglected and disrespected. Will no one think of the tempura??

Listen, I don’t have a problem with combining food from different cultures. That’s what fusion cuisine is, isn’t it? I mean, Trader JoMar’s™ Kare Kare Pad Thai sounds interesting. They’re both peanuty. It could work. (Ok, I’m now invested in this non-existent dish. Someone who is less of a catastrophe in the kitchen please make some vegetarian Kare Kare Pad Thai and lemme know how it goes. I take no responsibility if it lands you on the toilet for a week or the hospital but will take all the credit if it’s a culinary home run.)

It might be problematic when you label that fusion dish under only one culture, though. It’s like when kids take on their father’s last name, like their mother didn’t contribute half their DNA. Filipinos solve this thorny issue by making the middle names of all their kids the mother’s maiden name. True story. Oh, I guess you could hyphenate last names too. There’s that.

Before you decide to boycott Trader Joe’s or write them a sternly worded letter for making you waste your time mulling over whether their labels are racist or not and writing overly long blog posts about this internal conflict, know this: that bag of frozen Kung Pao Tempura Cauliflower? Freakin’ DELICIOUS. My oven is broken (naturally), but it warmed up perfectly fine in my little convection style toaster oven. Some of the pieces came out with lightly toasted edges.

Check out them delicately toasted bits!
Check out them delicately toasted bits! Makes it look like I know what I’m doing in the kitchen.

The sauce is on the spicy side, being Kung Pao and all but wasn’t overpowering. Well, what would it even overpower? Cauliflower tastes like air and weight loss. The point is, this was a very tasty dish and fairly healthy. Or at least, not chock full of heart attack inducing ingredients. So, questionable labeling practices aside, this still gets 10/10, would buy again. 

Wow. That looks surprisingly similar to the picture on the package.
Wow. That looks surprisingly similar to the picture on the package.

I still think Trader JoMar’s ™ is a winner. Contact me, Trader Joe’s!