Concerns have been bubbling for a while now: Is the ‘coon’ in the Coon cheese brand racist?
It’s fair to say that this particular brand of popular supermarket cheese has sparked increasing controversy in recent years. Late last month, the brand’s owners decided that it was time to retire the name in favour of something better suited to the twenty-first century, given what they describe as a “sensitive situation involving one of (their) brands”.
Coon cheese was launched in 1935 and is officially named after its American creator, Edward William Coon (1871–1934) of Philadelphia, who patented a method, subsequently known as the Cooning process, for fast maturation of cheese via high temperature and humidity.
The problem is that coon is also an offensive racial term, one of the worst according to the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University in the USA.
Australian anti-racism campaigner Dr. Stephen Hagan questions the official Coon narrative and has claimed that Edward Coon worked as a factory hand and the patent was launched in his name 10 years after the cheese was first sold, asserting that the cheese was previously wrapped in black and given the name “Coon” as a joke.
As you’d expect, certain parties have objected to the name change, but I think it’s a sensible move. In a globalised era, Australia is a ‘village’ in the world community. We are interconnected with other peoples and cultures like never before. Maintaining the name – racist or not – leaves a poor impression. The harm from maintaining the Coon brand will surely exceed the cost of changing it in the long term.
In any case, Coon is hardly an “iconic” Australian brand. Sure, it’s popular (and I enjoy the cheese myself) but it’s just a name and name-changes happen all the time, even to “iconic” brands. Remember National Mutual? Telecom Australia? HBA? Even contentiously-named lollies get renamed.
The world moves on.
There is no harm in being sensitive and considerate towards all members of our community. In the end, the owners of the brand have also decided that renaming the cheese makes good commercial sense and that in itself is a good enough reason to accept their thoughtful decision.