The Makers Of Cream Of Wheat Are Reviewing Their Packaging Which Features A Black Chef With A Racist Past
Aunt Jemima and Lady Antebellum might be dead, but Rastus, the Cream of Wheat chef whose name is a vile slur taken from a minstrel character whose defining characteristics were stupidity and shiftlessness, lives on. Like he literally lives on every box of Cream of Wheat sold all over the world. However, according to CNN, current COW owner B&G Foods (it was a Kraft product until 2007) “has initiated a review of its packaging,” which I guess technically isn’t doing the absolute least, but it’s close.
The image you see on the current COW box isn’t particularly offensive. He’s just a tidy chef whose only recipe is hot slop that cooks in one minute. CNN reports that the illustration of the chef character was based on a real Chicago based chef named Frank L. White, who I’m sure could actually throw down in the kitchen. Chef White died in 1938.
“We understand there are concerns regarding the Chef image, and we are committed to evaluating our packaging and will proactively take steps to ensure that we and our brands do not inadvertently contribute to systemic racism,” B&G Foods told CNN Business in an emailed statement.
Scholars say White’s image replaced Cream of Wheat’s original black mascot, Rastus, a racist caricature of black Americans that commonly appeared in blackface minstrel shows from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Rastus was depicted as a dim-witted former slave who spoke broken English in early Cream of Wheat ads. Today, the name Rastus is regarded as a racial slur.
Rolling Stone adds that the current unnamed chef is quite similar to their original Rastus chef.
The breakfast food — first manufactured in 1893 — has long been criticized for its use of Rastus, a smiling African-American chef whose name has been shorthand for a derogatory slur against African-American men and whose visage has been criticized for being stereotypically subservient. The character of Rastus has appeared in numerous minstrel shows dating back to the 1800s. Rastus was removed from the packaging in 1925, but the company replaced it with a similar image that remains today.
As you can see in this ad from 1921, Chef Rastus might not have the same exaggerated physical characteristics seen in countless other racist advertising from the Jim Crow era featuring black stereotypes, but he sho is dumb.
And here’s the chef today. As you can see, not much has changed. He still loves serving white people, they just stopped putting words in his mouth.
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History Lesson: Cream Of Wheat Since 1893 The story of Rastus The story of the guy on Cream of Wheat is awful! "Cream of Wheat When Emery Mapes of the North Dakota Diamond Milling Company set out in 1893 to find an image to market his breakfast porridge, now called Cream of Wheat, he decided to use the face of a black chef. Still on promotional packaging for Cream of Wheat today, the chef—who was given the name Rastus, has become a cultural icon, according to sociologist David Pilgrim of Ferris State University. “Rastus is marketed as a symbol of wholeness and stability,” Pilgrim asserts. “The toothy, well-dressed black chef happily serves breakfast to a nation.” Not only was Rastus portrayed as subservient but also as uneducated, Pilgrim points out. In a 1921 advertisement, a grinning Rastus holds up a chalkboard with these words: “Maybe Cream of Wheat ain't got no vitamins. I don't know what them things is. If they’s bugs they ain't none in Cream of Wheat.” Rastus represented the black man as a child-like, unthreatening slave. Such images of blacks perpetuated the notion that African Americans were content with a separate but (un)equal existence while making Southerners of the time feel nostalgic about the Antebellum Era."
There’s an eye-opening write-up of the history of the COW chef on the blog FoodTellsAStory. I’m sure the original makers of COW probably paid Chef White upwards of $0.25 for the use of his image through the decades, so I can understand why they might be loathe to abandon him altogether now that the heat is on. But the chef has got to go! I just hope the team that B&G has reviewing their packaging, isn’t the same team that’s responsible for coming up with Hawaiian Pizza flavored Cream of Wheat, because that team should absolutely be fired.