Why IKEA Customers Are Furious Over This Holiday Menu

Maybe IKEA should have stuck with Swedish meatballs and lingonberry jam. Management at the IKEA in Atlanta decided to offer a special menu to honor Juneteenth on Saturday, June 19, but the idea backfired. After seeing the menu in an email on Friday, 33 store employees protested by calling in to say they would not be showing up to work on Saturday (via CBS46). Employees told CBS46 the menu choices, which included fried chicken, watermelon, and collard greens, were racially insensitive and ignorant. Watermelon and fried chicken have been used repeatedly in racist depictions of Black people for more than a century (via The Atlantic). The Atlanta IKEA repeated the mistake made by a private girls school in California that had to apologize after attempting to honor Black History Month by putting fried chicken and watermelon on its lunch menu several years ago.

IKEA's management in Atlanta apologized, too, and pulled the menu. They offered a slightly revised Juneteenth menu on the June 20, but employees and customers interviewed by the Atlanta CBS affiliate were not impressed. "I'm just frankly disappointed in the learning process," one customer said. "You shouldn't learn after you have insulted all of your black employees." An IKEA employee added, "You didn't know what to do? This is the city where you could have asked somebody and gotten an intelligent response."

IKEA didn't select traditional Juneteenth foods

Juneteenth, which just became an official national holiday, honors the day in 1865 when a Union general informed slaves in Galveston, Texas that they were free (via The New York Times). An account in Oprah Daily of the foods traditionally served on Juneteenth suggests fried chicken would not be the best choice for a holiday menu. Instead, barbecued chicken, pork, and ribs feature prominently in traditional celebrations. Foods that are red in color, including barbecue, are important on Juneteenth because red foods were considered treats during slavery, and the color had spiritual significance to the Yoruba and Kongo people of Africa, the main groups brought to Galveston on ships as slaves. Some of the red foods traditionally eaten on Juneteenth include red velvet cake, red beans and rice, and watermelon — which happens to get ripe in Texas around Juneteenth. 

The question is whether people drawing up the Juneteenth menu at the Atlanta IKEA knew this history. "None of the coworkers who sat down to create the menu, no one was Black," employees told CBS46. In a followup report on CBS46, IKEA said Black employees did, in fact, help with the menu: "To honor the day, a lunch menu was created with the best of intentions, including recommendations from Black co-workers," the store's official statement read. "[We] changed the menu after receiving feedback that the foods that were selected are not reflective of the deeply meaningful traditional foods historically served as part of Juneteenth celebrations. We got it wrong and we sincerely apologize."