Hardships for Asian Food Workers

November 22, 2011

Photo courtesy of Maria Azzurra Mugnai

Tough to
mistake canines for quackers, but that is what an enterprising Minneapolis TV
journalist did when trying to determine if a New York City Chinatown meat
market was selling cuts of man's best friend.

reporter James Schugel called up a Dak Cheong Chinatown Meat Market and asked
point blank if they sold dog for cuisine. The meat market man at the other end
responded "yes" (Mediabistro has the transcript here).

So when
Schugel’s report came out, the New York City authorities decided to
investigate … and found no evidence of dog meat anywhere. It turns out the
butcher thought Schugel was talking about duck, not dog.

reports on the story here and here.)

How did
WCCO initially respond? The news station pulled the story from its website,
without an explanation or official retraction. 

passed. The Minnesota branch of the Society of Professional Journalists and the
Asian American Journalists Association jointly called for WCCO to issue an
The rumor mill began firing -- would Schugel and editors be fired?

More than
two weeks after the originally story aired, WCCO released a statement that was
more indignant than repentant. MinnPost has the story on the statement.

From the
WCCO statement:

  • When we called the market, the person we spoke to said he
    didn’t speak English, but then gave an interview in English. We asked him if
    the market sold dogs, and we believed he answered in the affirmative. We now
    believe that he said, “Duck.”
  • Since our report and a full two months after the last
    shipment of dogs, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets
    searched the markets for dogs and found no evidence to sustain the claim that
    they were being sold at that location. It is interesting to note that this same
    establishment was searched by the New York State Department of Agriculture and
    Markets last December, based on a similar complaint, and there was no evidence
    to sustain that claim.

So no apology from WCCO and a
jab at the meat market for being investigated by New York twice. I guess when
it comes to Asian food establishments, it’s presumed shady until proven



Asian restaurants have it no
easier. Nationwide, people are calling owners of Asian food restaurants and
setting up appointments for health and safety inspections.

But these callers are not
real inspectors -- they are scammers trying to extract money from the
restaurant illegally. This particular scam has become a frequent
occurrence over the past two years in numerous states.

Scammers seem to be targeting
owners of ethnic
food restaurants
, especially Asian
food restaurants
. So far, owners seem to be holding their own and refusing
to bite on the scam

The scammers may actually be trying to
up fake Craigslist or eBay accounts using restaurant information
, with the
aim of selling fake services or merchandise to others, on those accounts. They target
owners of Asian food restaurants, thinking that immigrants and non-English speakers can be confused or scared into compliance.

But restaurateurs have proven
more savvy than the scammers anticipated. The owners know that inspectors
rarely, if ever, call to schedule an inspection appointment. Legitimate
inspectors show up unannounced. So when scammers announce they are calling to
schedule an inspection, the red flags go up. One scammer happened to call a
restaurant owner in Des Moines, IA, when an
actual inspector was at the establishment

Hyphen is going to have
in-depth coverage of this nationwide scam. Stay tuned.


Kevin Lee


Kevin Lee is slumming it in the anachronistic industry of journalism. Before landing back in California, he had gigs covering politics in Illinois, Wisconsin and Texas. He's currently grappling with the decision of whether or not to buy a car.