PerspectivesVolume 2, No. 1

A Taste of MSG in American History

Have you ever wondered where the little voice in the back of your head that tells you “MSG is bad” comes from? In recent memory, Monosodium glutamate has carried with it the negative reputation of artificiality. However, the real issues underlying the common perception of MSG are complex and deeply rooted in our history. This article explores the intrigue that surrounds commonly held negative feelings about the chemical.

By going back to MSG’s creation, Thomas Germain gives a rare insight into the origin of a cultural stigma against Chinese food. MSG’s struggle is complicated by bad science and our own Cold War prejudices. It was labeled a health hazard by its opponents, and those that attempted to derail MSG’s mid-century popularity often adopted the voice of reason and science. However, Chinese foods and restaurants were singled out, despite MSG’s widespread use across the landscape of American food. This unreasonable focus on a specific national origin indicates that MSG’s negative connotation could have stemmed from a fear of foreigners, rather than any real medical issues.

Yet as one delves deeper into the history of MSG, the story unravels in a mix of culture, corporate conspiracy, and scientific indecision. In the end, the issue is so complicated that it defies any layman’s attempt to completely understand the issues surrounding MSG, leaving us in the dark about the medical and cultural implications of our diets.