People of a certain age may remember back to a time when Brazil nuts were blithely called "nigger toes." Now, or at least until recently, there was a lime that had a similar racial and religious slur in its name.
The Seattle Times recently reported that two Northwest produce suppliers have taken action against the word "kaffir" by removing it from product labels when referring to the specific lime leaves. PCC Natural Markets and Organically Grown Company have eliminated the word and are just referring to the leaves as "lime leaves." A campaign on Twitter, @KaffirNoMore, is encouraging people to call them "makrut leaves," the lesser-known name. The leaves are commonly used in Southeast Asian cuisines, namely Thai and Indian.
"Kaffir" is a powerful and offensive racial slur in South Africa. The word is also a religious slur in the Muslim language, referring to a non-believer in Allah, restaurateur Meeru Dhalwala told the Times. Dhalwala's father grew up in the area of India that is present-day Pakistan.
Chad Solari, director of the produce and floral department at the Bay Area's Andronico's Community Markets, says that the markets "recently became aware of this issue" and have taken the same action as the Washington and Oregon produce suppliers.
"We have changed the item description in all our systems, and we'll implore all our suppliers to do the same," Solari says in an email. The new name is "organic lime leaves."
Jamie Faletti, one of the owners of Falletti Foods, tells SF Weekly that the shop has omitted the slur, referring to its products as just "lime leaves."
Although Bi-Rite Market does not currently carry the limes, Jessie Rogers of the store's public relations department says they did not know about the negative connotations associated with "kaffir" but plans on removing it from their system.
"We definitely plan to discontinue using the term when we promote the limes or their leaves in our markets," Rogers says. " We are not currently carrying them, but will be certain to use either the alternate name, makrut, or refer to them generically as limes when we begin carrying them again."
PCC has also removed the word from deli and online recipes.
What's most surprising in this whole controversy is that the issue hasn't been addressed — and remedied — before now, despite the fact that the slur is primarily known in South Africa and Muslim countries. As PCC food writer Jill Lightner wrote in an email to the Times, "This issue here isn't remotely complicated: Hate speech doesn't belong in the produce department."