Throughout the history of the Asian diaspora, Asian food has been many things to many people—morphing, shifting, and incorporating new influences and environments to both comfort those yearning for a taste of home in a foreign land, as well as introducing novel and 'exotic' tastes to locals of the host country. Though Asian restaurants today are part and parcel of the urban fabric across the US and the UK, Asian food has become an area of contention and identity politics in our current era of social activism—hardly a month passes by without allegations of cultural appropriation on the part of non-BIPOC individuals seeking to 'elevate' Asian cuisine.
"Americans may love Chinese food, but they don't love the people who make it," summed up Eater's Jenny G. Zhang of the complicated relationship between Chinese-American communities and American society at large. "They treat Chinatowns like playgrounds, their residents like backdrops for photos. They reach for the products of Chinese labour and with the same hands knock them down on the street."
In the wake of anti-Asian sentiment exacerbated by a recent spate of hate crimes—including the tragic killing spree of an Atlanta gunman who targeted Asian-operated spas—Asian food has come into its own as an avenue of resistance, as anger within the community boils over. Capturing the ability of food to act as a source of healing as well as a potent vehicle of culture, food lovers across Instagram have been baking elaborate cakes and penning illustrations featuring protest slogans, dedicating them to the parents, elders and peers whose sacrifices paved the way for the flourishing of Asian immigrant communities around the world today.
In particular, the slogan "Love our people like you love our food"—first spotted on a protest sign by muay thai fighter Jessica Ng at a New York demonstration in February—has since become a rallying cry for the Asian foodie community, asking for the same respect to be afforded of them as the dishes they create.
British-Chinese illustrator and tattoo artist Georgina Leung elaborated on this sentiment via an Instagram series unpacking her family's history operating a Chinese takeaway restaurant, writing: "British Chinese food today as we know it was born from a need to survive. Its many reiterations and adaptations were originally created so that it suited 'western' tastes. The result was some delicious food that we have all eaten, MSG and all. People who travel to Asia for a holiday, people who love anime or manga, enjoy listening to K-pop, those who eat Asian food from takeaways and restaurants ... You don't get to enjoy all this and stay silent. You don't get to ignore the hate we have faced over decades and pretend white privilege doesn't exist."