A response to Stanford's Joel Brinkley on Vietnam - Rusty Compass travel blog

A response to Stanford's Joel Brinkley on Vietnam

| 05 Feb 2013
05 Feb 2013

Joel Brinkley, Pulitzer prize winner and former New York Times correspondent has created a stir with offensive comments about Vietnamese eating habits.

I wonder whether Joel Brinkley knew the furore his offensive piece about Vietnam, Despite increasing prosperity, Vietnam's appetite's remain unique, might cause? In it, he condemns the Vietnamese for their carnivorous ways, making the bizarre claim that their appetite for meat - and perhaps exotic meats like dog and rat - makes them more aggressive than their neighbours in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar.

Brinkley is a Stanford Journalism Professor, Pulitzer Prize winner and former New York Times foreign correspondent. We might have expected better.

In a way, the Vietnamese needn't be too aggrieved. The arguments made against them, while wrong and insulting, are also silly and easily disproved. Anyone who has spent any real time in Vietnam would know that.

An American condemning the carnivorous ways of the Vietnamese for its tendency to make them violent? An American condemning any nation for what it eats? An American writing "Vietnam has always been an aggressive country"?

What were the Americans eating in the 60s and 70s or the past half century, the Vietnamese might ask? And what's Brinkley smoking?

Vietnam can comfortably dismiss Brinkley's ravings as those of a fool. Stanford, Pulitzer and the New York Times should be more concerned. Their names are attached to the guy's past and present no matter what. And it's their reputations that distinguish Brinkley from any other blogosphere looney.

If Brinkley wanted to write about food, he would have been better off putting his silly cultural biases aside - why not eat field rat after all? He could have focused on the collapse of the naturally healthy traditional Vietnamese diet.

Vietnam is facing a soaring rate of childhood diabetes and obesity since opening its doors to globalisation and a regrettable fellow traveller - the US style high sugar, high fat junk food and soft drink diet.

Yes, some Vietnamese eat dog, others eat field rat chuot dong. These rats are caught in rice fields by the way - not the streets. My guess is that these are both more nutritious and more environmentally sustainable than a good many of the foods that US companies send to Vietnam.

But Brinkley was also making an important point that has been lost in the outrage about his more ridiculous claims and his weird errors of fact. 

He refers to something that is truly appalling - that Vietnam's new mega-rich have made the country a major destination for world's illegally smuggled ivory and rhino horn. And that the general state of wildlife preservation in the country is dismal.

Bear bile anyone?
Photo: Mark BowyerBear bile anyone?

Had he focused on these issues, he may have had fewer readers, but he would have retained some credibility. But his conflation of this wider wildlife protection issue with Vietnamese eating habits, his factual errors and his bizarre protein = aggression hypothesis, have all made the work of those trying to improve Vietnam's wildlife protection a little bit harder.

And then there's the Pulitzer Prize, Stanford and the New York Times. Their reputations are also smeared when one of their offspring shows such a low regard for the basic discipline of the journalism craft - facts.

Pity Stanford's journalism students if these are the standards being set for them.

Oh, and just in case you thought Brinkley's piece was the most important thing happening in Vietnam of late, check out this recent piece from the Economist for an update.
Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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4 comments so far

Spot on, Mark. A nice rational treatment of "observations" and their conclusions in the piece. Although let's not start painting all Americans w/ the same brush either. ;-)

  • Tomo
  • Thursday, 07 February 2013 05:05

Hi Brinkley I am Vietnamese girl. I do not know any thing about you until I read your writing talking about Viet nam ( my lovely country). when I read the information you write about Viet nam , it makes me angry so much. I am angry because the information you give out not exactly totally. You are looking my country with a very narrow eye. you are a person who study about wild animals and want to protect wild animals. It is ok, your work is so good. But why do not think about your writing before publishing it . I have some things want to comment to you. First, you wrote that Vietnamese people mainly eat animals, so they are more violence. oh, really ? I have to make a very big question for this judge. Do you have any concrete example for this ? just tell me. You said that we are violence because we eat a lot of animals , why do not think about the past why there are many countries they are eating less animal meat than us but they invaded and killed people in my country. Why do not you think about this, we are violence why we do not invade other countries like they did with my country. For me, Vietnamese people are so kind. Second, you want to protect animals , but when you come to my country, did you find out about people in my country ? they are not like you- living in a safe place and have enough conditions for your living, there are so many people in my country they are very poor. They can not protect themself from starving , how they can protect animal. Before protect animals, you should think about protect human being. Third, you just stay in my country for ten days, do you think that this is enough to give such judge ? just tell me where did you go and what did you do ? there are so many organzations in my coutry they are working hard to protect wild animals. If you want to know about this, just come to my country again and see it. Lastly, I want to say that you should think about your judge before doing something. And when talking about this, just find out informtion about Viet nam, about society, living conditions...Maybe in your eyes, my country is very small and it is not so developed as other countries and you do not treat us fairly . So, you think that you can speak any thing you like without caring about other people 's emotion. But you are wrong. We will make anyhting we can to protect our country from your stupid judge. you are a professor who are working in a famous university but through your judge, I feel bad for the students who is taught by you. Whether they can study a lot of good things from you ? If you are enough good. just fix your judge.

  • lien
  • Sunday, 10 February 2013 08:05

Come on guys. It's just an opinion. You can't boo a person because he has an opinion, even if it differs from yours. No need to be so defensive. Even though I don't agree with Joel, Ibelieve he simply didn't experience Vietnam to the fullest to understand him. When Sasha Baron Cohen shot his infamous Borat movie, I laughed my ass off, even though it was banned in my country and depicted it as retarded. Take it easy.

  • Vadim
  • Sunday, 17 February 2013 04:17

*understand IT (Vietnam that is)

  • Vadim
  • Sunday, 17 February 2013 04:18