Diversity and Inclusion…and food
By Christine Stolte, Class of Spring 21
My brain scrambled to so many places when I saw the outline for GCE Reflection. Should I speak about organizations like Slack and have a full circle moment with speaking to their diversity and inclusion efforts? Do I write about the school system and the inequities I saw in communities in the GTA and the lack of additional support and resources in schools in lower-income neighbourhoods? I opted for a topic that has been part of my life all of my life but only made a difference recently. In fact, we all need this thing to survive, but I honed in on these skills when the lockdown life became eminent.
Last year, in the centre of all of the pandemic chaos, I started spending my time cooking and baking. The processes gave me purpose in my day to day at a time when I was feeling pretty low. I followed all kinds of cooks on Instagram, from the ones you see on television to New York Times cooking contributors to the people who just started a blog and their pages exploded.
I love food, all kinds of food and if you ask me what my favourite food is my answer is always it just depends on my mood. I want to try it all and I want to try to make it all.
As I wrapped myself in this world of food over the past year, I learned more about a facet of food I had not previously researched closely. That was the colonization of food. It became very clear to me when a white blogger, and cookbook author, Half Baked Harvest (HBH) aka Teighan Gerard, was called out for creating a recipe for pho ga. A traditional Vietnamese soup. She was using the name of the food and but not actually making traditional pho ga. This left traditional Vietnamese food bloggers upset. There are actual Vietnamese bloggers who prepare and share actual traditional dishes with the correct preparation and do not receive near the amount of recognition as someone who they feel has butchered the meal.
The worst part, when this was addressed in the HBH Instagram comments, she changed the name of the recipe but did not take accountability for her error. She also did not immediately change the SEO on this recipe so on a Google search her recipe would still appear.
The real frustrating part for followers and people who saw this unfold? This comes at the height of Asian discrimination, which has exponentially increased during the pandemic. So, it appeared to me that she appropriated Vietnamese culture and capitalized on it through their cuisine without properly preparing it. At the same time, she was not speaking out on current issues that are impacting Asian Americans (and still has not). The reaction to this was poor all around and included blocking users who called her out in comments and privately in her direct messages.
Now is this person a communicator the way we have learned to be? No. But there is a lot of personal learning and growth that can happen for the individual and their audience.
So what did I learn from this disappointing behaviour?
Accountability. People will stumble in their learning but is important to address the error and show actionable steps you are taking to learn. In this situation, the blogger seemingly swept the situation away. She quietly changed the recipe name and did not address the issue with her followers, which could have been a point of education to her community that might have been unaware. Especially as many non-Asian followers were commenting saying what she did was “ok”.
Follow people who share the rich stories behind recipes from diverse backgrounds. Sure, I want a quick recipe. But I also want it to be right. I want to prepare a dish that is a true reflection and celebration of a community. This is not just in the food realm but in your personal life. This is something that I have consistently tried to work on. These people are also smaller creators and value your engagement.
Diversity and inclusion is truly interwoven into everything we do. Yes, everything. We know this professionally, we have covered it in essentially all aspects of our learning in this program. Applying this understanding to personal life makes us more cognizant, better communicators.
Something that might seem so simple like preparing a meal that is inspired by a certain cuisine is rooted in more.
All of this truly drives home the fact that as communicators, as people we need to integrate diverse thinking into all actions. Even the ones we think are personal and outside of our professional lives. We need to educate ourselves and search for the voices that are representative of the audience and even those that might not be.
With so many resources out there on social media, weaving voices different from our own into day-to-day consumption has become routine. There are resources to research and learn more about what communities around the world are doing to influence us and to honour these communities in respectful ways. Rather than using their methods and changing them to look like our own.
I suppose I would have never expected that when I started blogging about food a year ago it would serve as a learning piece for equity and diversity. But I am certainly glad it has. Which is why I chose to discuss this particular example. I felt it aligned with our learning but also displays how personal growth will make us better communicators and just better people overall. When we make these considerations in our personal life with what is seemingly simple day to day actions, they will transcend to into our professional role as communicators.