A CELEBRATION OF FOOD AND IDENTITY: A INTERCULTURAL AND INTERNATIONAL PANEL BY ASIAN LEADERSHIP COLLECTIVE AND ASIAN LEADERS ALLIANCE.

Food is something which many communities can agree, can be directly linked to our own identity and culture. Asian Leadership Collective are passionate on showcasing local people from the East and Southeast Asian and Asian American Pacific Islander communities. Alongside Asian Leaders Alliance, we hosted a club house session with moderators and panelists from varying backgrounds, lived experiences, and opinions on food and identity.

We had the pleasure of having some amazing moderators:

Anna Chan: Founder and Director of Asian Leadership Collective

Lisa Vanderschuit: Engineering Program Manager & Co-founder of Asians Employee Resource Group at Shopify

Lori Webb: Founder of International Speaker Collective

Stefanel Tok : Drinks Brand Manager, specialising in Trade Marketing & Creator of Dad’s Chilli Oil

And our fantastic panelists:

Elizabeth Haigh: Owner, founder of Mei Mei and Kaizen House

Hannah Hosanee – Founder of Little Yellow Rice Co heritage food brand. Runs marketing agency Consume Comms

Winnie Sher : Life coach working with British Born Chinese leaders

Mai Ngo: Honouring and celebrating culture through Vietnamese and French recipes via @mmbonappetit

Thank you so much to the amazing people we worked with on this campaign and clubhouse session. Don’t forget to use #foodpridechallenge and #ESEAeats to champion food stories.

Scroll on down to read our summaries and actionable takeaways to support small businesses.

We focused on 3 main topics:

  • Identity and food
  • History of food
  • Food authenticity and Allyship

Keep scrolling for a downloadable transcript of the session to share with others too!

Summary of Identity & Food

The two main themes coming from identity and food were the family and nourishment aspect. Many communities talk about food as a way of showing love, no matter your background or your world view, sharing a meal together at one table seems to be a common theme of bringing people together.

Keeping cultural and identities alive means passing down recipes and dishes t

Key points:

  • Family is a big part of identity and food, honouring and remembering being together.
  • Cooking to share with others and spending time as one – a love language. A way to show you care and love each other.
  • Strong links to nostalgia, specific memories, and joy.
  • Nourishment was another key part of food and identity.
  • Food for medicine, as a comfort and having a healing factor. Memories of travelling when eating or preparing certain types of food, nourishment for the soul.

Summary of History of food

Chinese food has had a long history in the UK, from British Chinese takeaways who catered to generations of locals, to those who would venture to their local Chinatowns to find local and comfort food. This type of food typically reflects Hong Kong cuisine but has seen a shift to more varied Chinese influences from different areas of China.

Street foods have become more popular due to many more people having access to travel; trying different cuisines and wanting to find that when they return back to the UK.
Singapore hawker centres are some of the most widely known places for outstanding street food and is an UNESCO world heritage site in its own right. However, there are concerns of the knowledge and experience being passed down to other generations. The concern of food memories and experiences being forgotten has fuelled our panelists to champion recipes which honour the generations which have come before.

Key points:

  • Chinatown, a destination which was a safe haven for many. This used to be the only place where you could get a good mix of local and comfort food.
    British Chinese takeaways cater for the people who want access to it. Hong Kong cuisine used to be the most common Chinese food in the UK however this is diversifying with more variety from different areas of China.
  • We are seeing more champions in fine dining in ESEA food.
  • Street food is becoming more popular and very different from takeaway culture.
  • Hawker centres in Singapore are a popular example of street food and those who are masters of their craft.
  • Worries around preserving ways of cooking and recipes, this history and knowledge is being lost due to the generational gap.
  • Many recipes try to honour traditional ingredients and methods however they are always adapted to the local area. Respect and due diligence are important to many of our panelists.

Summary Food Authenticity and Allyship

Food authenticity and respecting the story of food was widely agreed upon by the panelists. Paid consultancy was recommended for food establishments looking to make food accessible as there can be alot of pressure to get things right. By taking this approach, there would be less risk of appropriation and tokenism, by completing this due diligence on refining the food offering and doing the cuisine justice.

Panelists highlighted needing to strike a balance between authenticity and accessibility, from the ingredients on offer and having access to traditional methods of preparing the food. A strong focus on respecting the cultural significance of dishes and using the beauty of raw ingredients came through on this panel.

Stereotyping and talk of integration into society as young people were shared, not wanting to be othered or outed as “different”. However, our panelists now celebrate their food and identity proudly. Understanding this shift and how communities can work together on making food which is accessible, but still upholds cultural values and stories is a strong bond to bringing about active allyship.

Key points:

  • Keeping authenticity means not dumbing down flavours, but looking at how it is created in the country of origin.
  • The story behind the food is one of the most important things to champion, by completing due diligence on refining the offering and doing it justice.
  • There is a lot of pressure to get the food right. Many customers are not afraid to give her honest opinion.
  • Striking a balance between authenticity and accessibility.
  • It is important for the food industry to take consultancy to ensure cuisine is appreciative and not appropriating.
  • Pay for advice instead of making assumptions and making tokenistic gestures.
  • Stereotypes of ESEA food and people that they will eat anything, used as an insult.
  • Generational differences between communities when immigrating to other countries, earlier generations needed to survive and settle in. Wanting to blend in when younger, being self conscious of being different.
  • Now they are older, food is a celebration of their culture and identity.

Closing summary and key takeaways

As we closed the panel, we went around the room and asked what the key takeaways were from the session. Hope of keeping the conversation around food and togetherness was highlighted by many of the panelists and moderators. The session highlighted the intersectionality of different cultures and showcased a strong all female panel presenting varying perspectives. We all connected through the agreement of the power of food and the need to preserve and honour it’s story as we pass recipes and memories down to the next generation.

Key points

  • Hope for the future of our joint communities and the prospect of sharing food all together.
  • The intersectionality of individuals, cultures, and communities.
  • An all-female panel, showcasing different opinions and representing our different cultures and identities.
  • The opportunity to maintain traditions and pass down the authenticity of food.
  • That we have a universal language through food, being able to start conversations and connections.
  • A strong connection between honouring heritage and telling a story through food.

Actionable takeaways

For workplace services, event planning, food planning, businesses in the food industry:

  • Acknowledge the importance of food consultancy to ensure cuisine is appreciative and not appropriating. Embed this into your processes.
  • Consult and pay for small businesses’ time, those who are already doing the work instead of making assumptions and making tokenistic gestures.
  • The story behind the food is one of the most important things to champion, complete your due diligence on refining the offering and doing it justice.
  • If you have been approached by any community and been called in on appropriating culture, listen to their experiences and concerns. Make a public apology as appropriate and be transparent on how you will be addressing the issue going forward. As part of the apology, acknowledge and take accountability for the hurt you will have cause.
  • Get in touch with Asian Leadership Collective for any details, questions, or future events on leadership in the East and South East Asian community.

Asian Leadership Collective hope that showcasing diverse opinions and lived experience will allow our society to open up conversations from food, to our workplaces, to diversity and inclusion work.

Email us at at hello@asianleadership.co.uk if you are interested in our work, or want us to speak at your events. We work closely with the East and Southeast Asian community to raise awareness, consult, and champion equity amongst our society.

Download the transcript and summaries here

A massive thank you to Lori Webb for creating the transcript and video! We love them!

When sharing this article and any assets, please credit Asian Leadership Collective and Lori Webb.