There’s A Movement To Change How White Australian Food Media Is
Food journalism in Australia is dominated by white voices, but a movement is underway to try and diversify what we see in our coverage of food.
Why should we care about how food stories are covered, and how is the narrow lens through which we currently talk about food affecting Australian culture?
Food Journalism Gone Wrong
Lee Tran Lam: “The food scene in Australia is so multicultural so shouldn’t the people covering that food, reflect the diversity of the food that we’re eating?”
That’s Lee Tran Lam, she’s a food writer and podcaster who’s at the forefront of trying to shake up the diversity in Aussie food journalism.
Lee Tran told me that certain food coverage can be incredibly disappointing for people from diverse cultural backgrounds.
That was made really obvious in June this year, when the New York Times published an article talking about Asian fruits.
The article described durian fruits in a really negative way and it made a lot of people pretty angry.
LTL: “[The article] talked about the ‘deep dank rot of death’ that you get from durian … I think you just have to be really careful about things like appropriation, or unfairly maligning the food for another culture.”
Lee Tran told me that the New York Times generally have some pretty incredible food journalism, and that specific article is just an example of what can go wrong when food is approached with a narrow lens.
Every Region Has Their Own Vegemite
Lee Tran compared the criticism and fear around Asian foods like durian, to the world’s criticism of Vegemite here in Australia.
LTL: “Every region has a food that is beloved, that people from another point of the world don’t understand. But that doesn’t invalidate the people that actually love that food.”
Shows like Masterchef have really moved the conversation about diversity in food forward this year. The final five contestants in the show were Asian, and judge Melissa Leong described it as a “groundbreaking” moment for Australian TV.
But the whole saga wasn’t without its faults – from judges reeling at chicken feet, to one contestant being challenged that the Asian dish they made didn’t lend itself to fine dining.
What Do We Mean By ‘Fine Dining’?
Lee Tran told me that there’s still a long way to go in terms of deconstructing what we all understand as ‘fine dining’. She said that it’s still dictated by an old school, Eurocentric perspective of white tablecloths and $200 courses.
LTL: “Which I think is a mindset perpetuated by something like the ‘worlds 50 best restaurants’ list … there’s only one restaurant from mainland China on that list and it’s run by a French guy.”
But the conversation about food journalism isn’t just about cultural or ethnic backgrounds. Lee Tran told me that there needs to be a huge shakeup of all the voices that we’re exposed to, talking about food.
She said, we should be trying to bring in people from all different backgrounds – even people who have different medical conditions – because it can affect the way they eat.
Simple For Who?
Lee Tran told me that it was really enlightening as a food writer, to speak to a journalist with a chronic illness about recipes that claimed to be ‘simple’ for audiences.
LTL: “When you do have a chronic illness and you need to feed yourself, and you don’t have the energy, you don’t have the resources, you don’t have the time to go to the shops and get 20 different ingredients … when you say that something’s simple and it’s not, it does a disservice to certain people, and I just think I’m a better person for being empathetic and understanding that – taking on that viewpoint – so that’s why I think that diversity’s important.”
Diversity in Australian journalism is lacking across the board and the call to shake up our perceptions of food should absolutely be a part of the wider conversations that are starting to happen.
Because Australia is an incredibly rich, multicultural place for food – and right now, that’s not being reflected properly in how we think about and engage with food in the media.