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Anti-Asian Racism: When My Food Becomes Your Fear Factor

[IMPORTANT UPDATE: after this was posted, Pastor Jonathan and I had an email conversation where he responded to the points raised in this article. In the spirit of redemptive and restorative justice, please read my summary of this conversation at the end of this article.]

Fear may not a factor, but racism definitely is.

Do you remember the TV Show Fear Factor? If you don’t, it was what Joe Rogan did before his racist podcast on Spotify.

On Fear Factor, Joe hosted contestants to face their fears for the chance to win $50,000. They did things like eat live worms, get swarmed by live cockroaches, etc. Basically, they had to do gross, disgusting things, and the last person standing won.

[At this point I have to give a trigger warning for any Asians reading this, particularly Chinese and Filipinos, because what I’m about to describe is outrageously racist against you.]

Joe Rogan’s Fear Factor was cancelled in 2006, but a church in Toronto created their own version of it for Good Friday in 2022.

Now I’m a Christian, and I’m Chinese. But I felt completely dishonoured and disrespected in both those identities by their Good Friday online service, which was blatantly racist. What two white pastors did in this video was choose foods that are normal, delicious foods to Chinese and Filipino people, and make it their Fear Factor challenge. By their own admission they found the food “different” and “uncomfortable” to eat. They chose to eat it because it was hard for them to do so, so they were making a big sacrifice – just like Jesus. (Their analogy, not mine.)

Pastor Jonathan and Pastor Jessica at Yan Yu, a Chinese restaurant in Toronto. (Credit: all photos in this article are screenshots from their video, linked below.)

I’ll link to the video below (it’s public on YouTube and their website), but first I’ll explain what’s wrong with it.

The first thing wrong with it is that they see nothing wrong with it.

That’s very common with how racism shows up today. I’m sure these two white pastors who claim to be “celebrating the fact that [they’re] part of a multicultural church” never thought what they did was racist. In JEDI, I’ve never heard a single white leader say “I’m racist”.

And this video was a whole production, with someone filming, and even one of their staff (I assume a Chinese person) picking out food for them to eat. None of those people stopped this from happening.

I was deeply horrified, offended and triggered watching this. I don’t expect everyone will agree with me, but I absolutely see this as racist against Asian culture, food, and Asian people. Here’s why.

They weren’t eating it in appreciation. They were eating it as a gross-out challenge.

You can tell this not just by their faces and verbal reactions, but also by their menu choices:

(Clockwise from top left: Jellyfish cucumber salad, pig intestines, duck tongues, balut (egg with duck fetus), chicken feet, and frog legs.)

I’ve eaten all of these dishes before, except balut. Duck tongues is one of my absolute favourites. My mom used to buy them for me as a treat. Chicken feet I enjoy sucking all the skin and sauce off the bones at dim sum. (Fellow Asians, you have to see the way Pastor Jonathan eats the chicken foot – puts the whole thing in his mouth at once!)

So you may still be wondering, “What’s wrong with this?” After all, they didn’t say the food was disgusting. They politely tried every dish and even said some were “good” or “not bad”. Isn’t that being open-minded and appreciating diversity?

Unequivocally, NO. Do I expect them to like all the foods I like? Certainly not. Neither do I expect them to take foods that are normal and special to me (duck tongues aren’t cheap!) and treat them like something weird to be choked down grudgingly. (I’m not making that up, Pastor Jessica said in her sermon afterwards that “eating those duck tongues, that was pretty hard for me.”)