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New Documentary “Off the Menu: Asian America” by filmmaker Grace Lee explores how food how food reflects stories of varied communities

Lee has seen a change in Americans' awareness of Asian cuisine over the past few decades since she grew up in Columbia, Missouri, one of a very few Asian families

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"Off the Menu" explores how Asian cuisine spices up America's melting pot. Image source: VOA
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For much of the 20th century, for many Americans, Asian food meant chop suey or chow mein or other Chinese-style dishes. No longer – Americans may now choose from restaurants featuring Japanese, Thai, Korean, Indian, Burmese and other Asian cuisines.

In her documentary Off the Menu: Asian America, Korean-American filmmaker Grace Lee traveled off the beaten path to explore how food reflects an evolving Asian Pacific America. “How food tells the story of our communities and that’s what we were going for with the film,” she explains.

Lee has seen a change in Americans’ awareness of Asian cuisine over the past few decades since she grew up in Columbia, Missouri, one of a very few Asian families. “We sort of kept our kimchi to ourselves in our basement refrigerator. And we never exposed it to anybody. But now kimchi is so popular. As we say in the film, (chefs are) putting it on quesadillas, on burgers, it’s like a condiment like sriracha.”

For "Off the Menu," filmmaker Grace Lee explored Asian-American cuisine in 4 U.S. cities. Image source: VOA
For “Off the Menu,” filmmaker Grace Lee explored Asian-American cuisine in 4 U.S. cities. Image source: VOA

Tofu in Texas, curry in Wisconsin

Tofu is another recent popular addition to the American menu, showing up in unexpected places – like Texas, where Gary Chiu, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, runs Banyan Foods, the oldest tofu factory in the state. “In 2000 we started doing tofu eggrolls,” he told Lee, “In 2005, we started doing tofu tamales, which is an Asian Tex-Mex fusion.”

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Lee says Chiu’s family business is an example of how Asian Americans have adapted to other cultures. “It may not be authentically Chinese or authentically Mexican, because of the ingredient of tofu, but it does reflect their existence as Asian Americans in Texas where there is a Tex-Mex culture, Tex-Mex food, and actually in the factory most of the employees are Latino. So they’re also sort of fusing together their cultures.”

At the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Lee visited the scene of the 2012 shooting, where a gunman killed six people during a racially motivated rampage. When the tragedy occurred, the Sikh community was preparing for langer, a communal meal open to everyone.

Members of the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, prepare a communal meal for the community. Image source: VOA
Members of the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, prepare a communal meal for the community. Image source: VOA

Today, temple members continue to make and share the free communal meal. They say it’s helped to heal the community and also feed it spiritually. “We believe that the reason why food is important is because you can’t pray, you can’t be in tune in with God, unless your belly is full,” one temple member says in the film. Another explains, “We are not scared of anybody coming to gurdwara (temple). So still our doors are open, our hearts are open, our langer is open for them. And we feel honored when they come to us and join with us in our langer.”

Off the Menu ends its journey in Hawaii, where most of the state’s food is now imported. But it wasn’t always like that. These days, some Native Hawaiians continue to gather food just like their ancestors. Hi’ilei Kawelo learned how to do it from her father, Gabby Kawelo. She says being able to carry on their cultural traditions is an important part of her identity, and preserving their island way of life means a lot to her family.

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“When we do family luau, we still gather everything ourselves,” she said. “The whole point of a luau is that a family comes together and you’re pulling the resources that’s either grown or harvested. And so when you eat it, you’re eating the essence of all the skills passed down from generation to generation. And you take that bite of that food and you’re eating that. Food has mana (spiritual power). … You can taste the love and the history behind that food.”

Food as a connection

Off the Menu: Asian America captures the role food plays in peoples’ lives, connecting family, culture and community. Broadcast nationally on PBS, the film is now available on DVD. It is also being shown internationally, as part of theAmerican Film Showcase. Co-produced by the Center for Asian American Media(CAAM) and the San Francisco public TV station KQED, with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, filmmaker Grace Lee hopes Off the Menugives people a better understanding of the evolving experience of Asian Pacific Americans. (VOA)

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Researchers Develop New Test To Detect E.coli in Food Quickly

The kit has been approved by Health Canada and translated for commercial use

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Poultry, Produce Industry
Over 80% of UTIs caused by E.coli is found in poultry. Pixabay

Researchers have developed a novel testing kit that can detect Escherichia coli (E.coli) — a deadly pathogen — much more quickly than existing methods.

The kit detects E. coli 0157, commonly found in ground meat, and is considered more likely to cause severe illnesses than other forms of the bacteria.

The test detects a protein unique to the pathogenic E. coli bacteria and shows results in hours rather than days.

“Our goal is to get the testing to occur as close as possible to the source,” Michael Rieder, Professor at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, said in a statement on Friday.

“This technology is not only faster, but it’s less expensive, it’s easy to use, and it can occur right in the processing plant.”

Food samples to be tested are incubated for a few hours. A sample is then placed on a pad. After 15 minutes, the pad displays one red line to show it worked properly – and a second if the sample contains E. coli O157, the CTV reported.

New test to detect E. coli in food quickly. Pixabay

“It’s very much like a pregnancy test,” Rieder was quoted as saying.

Current food testing methods typically rely on culture, which requires samples to be sent away for testing, with results taking up to two weeks to come back. By that time, the food has often been shipped to markets and large recalls have to occur.

The quicker testing ensures that results are received long before contaminated products make it to the market, thus reducing the risk to the public and the need for large-scale food recalls.

“We are looking at this specific biomarker because it is unique to this pathogenic bacteria.The presence of bacteria itself isn’t bad, but we want to be able to identify specific bacteria that will cause people to get sick,” Rieder said.

Also Read- Taapsee Pannu Feels Disturbed By How Some Communities Are Targeted

“The goal is a safer food chain for everyone so that public safety can be assured.”

The kit has been approved by Health Canada and translated for commercial use. (IANS)