When food has an offensive name


The "kaffir" in "Kaffir lime" is actually a racial slur. At National Geographic, Maryn McKenna struggles with how to deal with foods that have offensive names.

I ran across a campaign, launched initially on Twitter, to rename the kaffir lime, a bumpy-skinned fruit from Southeast Asia with deeply perfumed leaves. “Kaffir” is a slur: In apartheid South Africa, whites hurled it against blacks. Writer Mark Mathabane, who was born in a Johannesburg shantytown during apartheid, used it to title his memoir, Kaffir Boy. In modern South Africa, uttering the word is scandalous hate speech, and defamation suits have been brought and won over it. Just this week, South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal upheld a man’s sentence (of a fine and a year in jail) for using it, saying in a unanimous opinion: “The word is racially abusive and offensive… its use is not only prohibited but is actionable as well.”

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