Race, culture and food: inside Skin Deep’s latest issue

by Grace Wang in March 2018
Current affairsFood & drink

Amplifying voices of colour, Skin Deep platforms discussions around race and culture. After two politically charged issues, their seventh focuses on food — the comfort many people turn to for respite from difficult situations. But in the process of making it, the editors realised that despite the nourishing quality of the things we eat, food is also often complicated by money, movements, power, conflict and the climate.

“We hope this issue will leave you with a feeling of being simultaneously gloriously full and insatiably hungry,” editors-in-chief Anu Henriques and Lina Abushouk say. Read on for their guide to the fascinating issue.

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1. Childish Gambino is our lowkey hero/muse/reason for living
On our journey into food, we unexpectedly (re)encountered Childish Gambino’s 2014 hit Sweatpants ft. Problem. In this track, as in everyday life, food functions both as a tangible thing that exists in the world for us to eat, and as a metaphor for the nourishment we seek beyond the plate. Our desire to understand the metaphor of nourishment, however, often means we overlook and underestimate the value of engaging more closely and meaningfully with the food itself. Gambino’s track (which you get a little taste of in our editor’s note) helped us get to the heart of some of the questions we wanted to ask with our food issue: What is food? How is it made? Where do the ingredients come from? Why do we associate certain feelings and memories with certain dishes? Who gets to eat and who doesn’t, and what does silverware have to do with it?

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2. Decolonising food is a huge part of the fight for climate justice
Jade Begay and Suzanne Dhaliwal wrote the first piece you’ll read in the magazine. Their piece ‘Decolonising Food’ challenges the ‘one size fits all’ attitude of the vegan movement in the West. They emphasise how important it is to distinguish between meat consumption on an industrial scale and Indigenous methods of procuring meat, like hunting, when we think about self-determination, land rights, and climate justice. It’s a really great piece that asks a lot of important questions about ‘ethical’ food consumption. It gets at many of the contradictions that we wanted to explore in the issue.

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3. What’s a food issue without some recipes?
Throughout the magazine you will find recipes that you can cut out, make notes on, try out yourself and share with strangers. Some of them are a little unconventional; their applications extend beyond the kitchen, giving you instructions on how to survive possible world wars or create the perfect Asian character for your break-out sitcom. These ‘recipe interchapters’ that punctuate the magazine provide pauses, and can hopefully remind you of why print is so important.  Magazines are tangible objects that disrupt space and allow for IRL conversation. Through sharing some bits of our magazine and ripping other bits out, you are not only passing on a physical object, you’re passing on your experience of it. It’s also part of that nostalgia we have for things that preceded cyberspace!

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4.  Immigrant communities can do the most with the least when it comes to food
A few of the pieces in this issue use food as a way to understand community, shared histories and traditions. Food can be a way of understanding the demands of migration; the mix-and-match life of many immigrant families is reflected in their kitchens. When your favourite ingredients from home aren’t available at the local market, strange combinations will become your comforting stand-ins. In Ketchup Spaghetti, An Uong explores how her Vietnamese mother, plunged into the strange world of American grocery stores, tries to recreate some of the dishes that her children had grown accustomed to in their new home.

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5. Food can be full of pain – and redemption
‘Brown Sugar’, a personal story of disordered eating, is set against a monumental artistic exploration of America’s slave history in the form of a sugar sphinx: two food histories full of pain, control and the devaluation of black bodies continuing to unfold. In ‘Cooking Obe with My Mother’, the author stages an epic sharing of personal histories with his own mother at the dinner table. Food, with all its ritual power and primal familiarity, lets them ask painful questions of each other, even as their meals go cold in front of them. The battles we face in the kitchen – whether literal wars over valuable crops, fights with ourselves to eat or not eat, or defending our identities against shame or misuse – help shape our worlds.

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