Joel Brinkley, a professor of journalism at Stanford University, has stirred up a whole lot of ire over his Chicago Tribune column titled “Despite increasing prosperity, Vietnam’s appetites remain unique.”

After a 10-day visit to the country, the Pulitzer Prize-winning former foreign correspondent surmised that “because Vietnamese have regularly eaten meat through the ages, adding significant protein to their diet, that also helps explain the state’s aggressive tendencies—and the sharp contrast with its neighbors.”

He elaborated, “Vietnam has always been an aggressive country. It has fought 17 wars with China since winning independence more than 1,000 years ago and has invaded Cambodia numerous times, most recently in 1979.” He pointed in particular to seeing a lack of wild and/or domesticated animals in the country as a sign that “most have been eaten.” To him, it explains why the “World Wildlife fund describes the state as the world’s greatest wildlife malefactor.” 

Co-founder of One Vietnam Network Gwen Uyen Nguyen was among those complaining of “generalizations bordering on racism.” Well-versed in Vietnam’s wildlife conservation, an assistant professor of human ecology at Rutgers University Pamela McElwee noted that “weak government enforcement efforts has nothing to do with the consumption of animals like rats and dogs.”

When it comes to Brinkley’s insistence on the supposed link between a meat habit and aggression, McElwee reminds us that the entire region has experienced a war of some form in the past. She also points out that “the U.S. is the second-largest per capita meat-eating population.”

Still, Brinkley stands by his original piece through a post published on He admitted he probably could have phrased his opinions better, but he nevertheless believes that a regular diet of rice means “half of Laotian children grow up stunted, even today. In Cambodia the rate is 40 percent.” He goes on to conclude “that means they grow up short and not so smart.” According to Brinkley, this means “they would be less aggressive than Vietnamese.”

[via The Sun]