Wei: In Hot Water

Insensitive activism reveals a greater pattern of harm in society.

by Virginia Wei | 1/25/19 2:10am


On Dec. 27 2018, Australian musician Jona Weinhofen posted a tweet that generated a controversial feedback. The tweet read: “Meat eaters be like ‘vegan food looks and tastes gross’ And then eat something that looks like leftover dishwater.” Accompanying this text was a picture of hot pot, a traditional dish in several Asian countries. 

If you’re unfamiliar with hot pot, the dish basically consists of a big pot of boiling soup stock or water set in the middle of the table. In Chinese culture, everyone gathers around the table to boil various raw ingredients in the pot and share a meal. Hot pot is meant to bring people together, to strengthen their bonds. It’s strongly associated with feelings of unity and family. 

Unsurprisingly, the Asian community was immediately up in arms following Weinhofen’s tweet. Many saw this as a direct attack on Asian culture and its traditions. Other commentators, even those who weren’t themselves Asian, tended to agree that the tweet was mean-spirited. However, some who noted that it was possible Weinhofen hadn’t intended to make a racist comment; he had simply found a dish with meat in it that he considered “ugly” and posted it. 

Here’s the thing, though: it doesn’t matter whether Weinhofen had a racist agenda. In fact, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Yet even if Weinhofen had no ill intent, even if he only wanted to make a classic “my food is better than yours” joke and simply erred in his comparison, his tweet remains culturally insensitive. 

If you, reader, are a person who has eaten hot pot and understands the value of it as a cultural artifact then, like me, your heart probably dropped when you read the words “leftover dishwater.” When one sees a dish with such fond memories attached to it dismissed so easily, it hurts. Hot pot is a dish that can be made entirely from vegan ingredients, and yet Weinhofen (consciously or not) chose to ignore that fact. When you see a dish like that ignorantly mocked just to promote veganism, it hurts. When you think that Weinhofen didn’t do research into the food he was posting a picture of, it hurts. It’s very likely he encountered that picture with some context (in a news article or a friend’s social media, maybe, or even specifically searched for it on Google). But when you think that he still posted that tweet without regard for what implications it could have outside the context of veganism, it hurts. When you think that maybe Weinhofen knew exactly what he was posting a picture of and decided that it was a good idea anyway, it especially hurts. Regardless of his original intent, the damage has been done. 

To this day, Weinhofen still has neither deleted nor apologized for this tweet. Rather, he has constantly defended himself in every way possible, refusing to see other people’s points of view. He even responded to one of his harshest critics by saying “[Asian] tradition is not an excuse for animal genocide,” showing that he continues to stand by what he said. 

It’s clear to me that he’s missing the whole point of this controversy, and in the process is illustrative of an increasingly popular but troublesome trend in our society. If someone hurts someone else, and that person then says, “Hey, I was hurt by that thing you did,” the first person will become indignant and defensive. “It’s not like I did it on purpose. It’s not even that bad, you’re just being too sensitive,” they might say. 

There’s this common idea that one must always be in the right, and if one offends or hurts someone else, well, that must be their problem. But that’s entirely the wrong approach to take. If we as as society are invested in treating each other well, in acting with kindness and compassion, then we must recognize that kindness and compassion involve acknowledging others’ feelings. Even if to someone it seems like nothing to be upset about, it behooves them to take a step back and really look at what they did. If someone accidentally hit a baseball through a window, the window won’t un-break just because that person tells it it’s being too sensitive. That individual’s responsibility is instead to take steps to repair the window. 

So, Jona Weinhofen, I don’t care what your original intents were. I care that I, and many other people to whom hot pot is an important tradition, were hurt by your words. I care that you fail to recognize the pain you have caused. I care that instead of taking the time to have constructive dialogue, you continue to insist that there’s nothing wrong with what you said and instead shift the blame on us, as if we’re to blame for you shattering our window.

Wei is a member of the Class of 2022. 

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