Shellie Zhang: Accent

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Shellie Zhang: Accent
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Shellie Zhang: Accent says
Shellie Zhang

May 20 - June 10, 2017
Opening Reception: Saturday, May 20 from 7-10pm
// There will be a FREE shuttle bus from St. George Station to Y+ contemporary for the opening. For more details and to reserve your spot, visit

"[The] Chinese restaurant syndrome was, at its core, a product of a racialized discourse that framed much of the scientific, medical and popular discussion surrounding the condition. This particular debate brought to the surface a number of widely held assumptions about the strangely ‘exotic’, ‘bizarre’ and ‘excessive’ practices associated with Chinese cooking which, ultimately, meant that few of those studying the Chinese restaurant syndrome would question the ethnic origins of the condition."
—Ian Mosby*

From the 1930s to the late 1960s, MSG was commonly found and used in North America, often marketed under the brand “Accent” and advised to use as another seasoning in addition to salt and pepper.

In 1968, the New England Journal of Medicine published a letter to the editor from one reader describing radiating pain in his arms, weakness and heart palpitations after eating at Chinese restaurants. The reader mused that a combination of cooking wine, monosodium glutamate (MSG) or excessive sodium might have spurred these reactions. Reader responses poured in with similar complaints, and scientists jumped to research the phenomenon, centering on the glutamic salt, MSG. Not long after, the “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” was born.

Visceral and often communal, food is one of the most accessible ways to engage with a culture. Through its consumption, creation and interpretation, food possesses the unique capability to extend beyond its corporeal restrictions to reflect individual and shared stories, and historical and political climates. Combining a history of product marketing alongside archival materials from the Toronto Star and UTSC’s Harley J. Spiller Collection, Accent presents a case study of the nuanced and racialized undertones within the everyday.

The artist would like to acknowledge the support of the Toronto Arts Council, and the Ontario Arts Council - Conseil des arts de l'Ontario. Programming support for Accent has been provided by the City of Toronto through the Toronto Arts Council and ArtReach Toronto.

For more information, visit

*Excerpt from "'That Won-Ton Soup Headache': The Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, MSG and the Making of American Food, 1968–1980", Social History of Medicine Vol. 22, No. 1 pp. 133–151
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By: Y+ contemporary