Food is our identity. This may explain the swift and categorical reaction from most Latinos to Goya’s CEO praise of Donald Trump: it’s like a personal betrayal.
I used to buy Goya’s anchovy-stuffed olives, and once in a while a can of beans. But I will no longer buy Goya products. Like many Latinos, I was outraged by Goya Foods’ CEO Robert Unanue’s praise of a president who has treated Latinos not only with disrespect but with abysmally cruel policies, from ICE deportations to the cavalier response to the coronavirus that has disproportionately victimized Latinos and Black people, probably the two demographics that buy Goya products the most.
I always bought Goya with a certain amount of guilt. I knew something most people didn’t: that Goya’s owners, the Unanue family, have always been well to the right in politics. About 15 years ago, I worked at a Hispanic ad agency that pitched business to Goya. I remember that we were warned that the owners were extremely conservative. Even modern typefaces were taboo. Now the entire world knows just how conservative they are.
Food is culture. Even deeper than that, food is our identity. It is the gastronomic manifestation of who we are. Food is home, food is love, food is community, food is family. This may explain the swift and categorical reaction from many Latinos to Unanue’s lavish praise on Donald Trump: it feels like a betrayal. This also explains the nature of the reactions on Twitter — people are sharing their homemade adobo recipes and recommending alternative brands (best use of Twitter ever).
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This is beyond cancel culture. This is personal.
It’s hard to explain why the CEO of Goya Foods would think that praising Donald Trump would not outrage their customers unless this is their new campaign to appeal to many of the Trump supporters who could certainly use some adobo in their lives. Facing the backlash, Unanue, who is a long-time Republican donor, appeared on Fox News and doubled down, unapologetic and unwilling to acknowledge the reasons for the grievance of his customer base. Is he unaware that most Latino voters disapprove of Trump? He complained of speech suppression. But the boycotters are actually exercising their freedom to opine with their wallets.
The Unanues are immigrants like the rest of us. They have been in the US for almost a century The owners of Goya Foods built a thriving billion-dollar business by catering to the different culinary traditions of Latinos in the U.S., from mojo criollo to salsa mexicana. As is typical of Latino life in this country, they created a “Latino” umbrella brand that encompasses all kinds of national cuisines. This is about their belief system. They believe that they can profit from their customer base while extolling and even benefiting from the policies that harm the very people they serve. But if our food is our identity, and our food is tainted, why should we keep eating it?