Food For Thought: In conversation with Anna Lee
Food For Thought WA is a fast-growing Perth-based social enterprise that aims to share life stories, traditions, and bridge cultural gaps through cooking workshops and sharing food together. We spoke to co-founder Anna Lee on her own cultural connections to food and how this affected her growing up as an ABC.
Growing up, both my parents cooked. My dad opened his first Chinese takeaway store in the 80s and my mum started operating her own catering business in 1998 after coming to Australia in the 70s from Vietnam. Coincidently, this takeaway store was actually how they met. Some would say that having two parents who were amazing cooks was a blessing, that I should be just as talented and fortunate to have so many tasty recipes passed down to me. The exact opposite was the case.
I didn’t actually learn to cook until I was about 12, out of a combination of sheer laziness (why cook when I could just eat the great food my parents cooked?) and my parents’ fear of me burning down the house whenever I was near the stove. Arguably, the one upside is that I remember quite vividly the very first rather terribly cooked dish I ever made.
It was a simple beef and tomato stew with plain white rice. I remember being so proud of this huge pot of stew I had made and how completely mortified my dad was at the amount of mess I had left in the kitchen after me. I remember my mum telling me how she came across this dish when she was growing up, as she showed me how to measure the ingredients with my hands the good old-fashioned way. For the first time, I was learning more about her and how she learnt how to cook. However, what really struck me about that moment was that for the first time, I hadn’t been ashamed of the Chinese food that I ate day in day out, and I had the opportunity to learn more about my mum’s story.
Growing up as an Australian-born Chinese girl, I’d always eaten the typical Asian staple of rice every night without fail. I remember time and time again complaining that I just wanted KFC, pizza or pasta for dinner because I was sick of having the same boring thing every meal. I remember sitting at school the next day with my leftover dinner being teased for having worm-like noodles or weird-smelling fried rice. I remember asking for meat pies, sandwiches and wraps just so I seemed more ‘normal’ to my peers. It wasn’t until I entered high school that I was confident enough to bring more of my favourite Chinese and Vietnamese dishes to school.
Every opportunity after that first time, whenever my mum or grandma was teaching me how to cook a new recipe, they would share a small piece of themselves. This was one of the only ways that I could learn more about my own family’s history and culture as I came to terms with my Asian heritage in an Australian context.
Collecting family stories and recipes are ways to preserve family history. In fact, it is partially the reason why I decided to create Food For Thought WA in the first place. I wanted an opportunity for others in the refugee community or even other storytellers to be able to pass on their journey, traditions and history with those who both love to cook as well as learn more about those around them. Food for Thought WA is a social enterprise that creates cooking experiences that encourage people to bridge cultural gaps through storytelling and hands on cooking experiences facilitated by cooks from diverse backgrounds. We aim to take the untold stories of amazing individuals and give these cooks the avenue to share with the wider community what they have to say in order to engage understanding and interaction. We want to not only bring stories to those who want to hear more but open up the hearts of those who need to hear them the most as well as encourage everyone to share their own stories over a simple meal.
I hope that through my work other ABCs and descendants of diverse backgrounds can learn to love their mixture of east and west as much as I do now. Through food, we can bridge hate and create love.
About the contributor
Born and raised in Perth, Australia, Anna Lee is a university student by day and avid foodie by night. In her spare time, she teaches students around Australia how to debate and public speak but also runs a number of side hustles to keep her on her toes.
If you’re interested in joining the Food For Thought WA movement, hosting a lunch/dinner yourself or want to share your own journey over a meal, make sure you like them on Facebook or contact them through their website.