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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

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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Peanuts and Eggs Can Help Prevent Allergies in High-risk Babies: Study

Peanuts, eggs may prevent food allergies in high risk infants

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Food allergies
Babies should be fed nothing but breastmilk until six months - and only then should solid foods be introduced. Lifetime Stock

Researchers have found that introducing peanuts and eggs to high-risk babies as early as three months could prevent them from developing allergies to those foods in later life.

According to UK current guidelines, babies should be fed nothing but breastmilk until six months – and only then should solid foods be introduced.

Published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the study found that despite low adherence, early introduction to allergenic foods (those that may cause an allergic reaction), including egg and peanut, was found to be effective in preventing the development of food allergies in specific groups of infants.

“These results have significant implications and are informative when it comes to infant feeding recommendations concerning allergies and the development of new guidelines,” said study researcher Gideon Lack, Professor at King’s College London.

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Peanuts are found to be effective in preventing the development of food allergies in specific groups of infants. Pixabay

“If early introduction to certain allergenic foods became a part of these recommendations, we also have data that tells us what populations may need extra support when it comes to implementing the recommendations,” Lack added.

The research is a continuation from The Enquiring About Tolerance (EAT) study where over 1300 three-month old infants were recruited in England and Wales and placed into one of two groups.

One group was introduced to six allergenic foods (including peanut and egg) from three months of age alongside breastfeeding and was called the Early Introduction Group (EIG).

The other group was exclusively breastfed for six months and was termed the Standard Introduction Group (SIG).

The results showed that 34.2 per cent of children in the SIG developed food allergy in comparison to 19.2 per cent, of children in the EIG.

Among babies sensitised to peanuts at enrolment, 33.3 per cent of those in the SIG went on to develop a peanut allergy compared with 14.3 per cent of the infants in the EIG.

And among those sensitised to egg at the beginning of the study, 48.7 per cent of the infants in the SIG developed an egg allergy compared with 20 per cent in the EIG.

The early introduction of allergenic foods to infants who were not at a high risk of developing food allergies was not associated with an increased risk of developing food allergy, the study said.

Eggs allergies
Early introduction of foods that causes allergies can significantly reduce the chances of high-risk infants developing egg allergy. Pixabay

There were no significant differences in food allergy rates between the two groups of infants with no sensitisation to any food at the time of enrollment.

The results were still evident despite only 42 per cent of the EIG group achieving the per-protocol adherence of sustained, high dose consumption of five or more early introduction foods.

Low adherence to the protocol, appeared to be most prominent among populations of increased maternal age, non-white ethnicity and lower maternal quality of life.

“We have shown that the early introduction of foods that causes allergies can significantly reduce the chances of high-risk infants developing peanut and egg allergy,” said study researcher Michael Perkin, from University of London.

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“Our research adds to the body of evidence that early introduction of allergenic foods may play a significant role in curbing the allergy epidemic,” Perkin added. (IANS)