Eating Cultures


Graphic courtesy of Michelle Lee.

















Venue: SOMArts Cultural Center, Main Gallery, 934 Brannan Street, San Francisco.

Exhibition Dates: May 1-30, 2014. Tuesday through Friday from 12-7pm, and Saturdays from 12-5pm.

Opening Reception: Thursday, May 1, 2014. 6-9pm. Catered by La Cocina’s Incubator Kitchen. RSVP on Facebook!

Closing Reception: Friday, May 30, 2014. 6-9pm. Special performances: Erin O’Brien performs Sausage Homage, Margaret Rhee with Kimchi Poetry, and Rene Yañez with The Great Tortilla Conspiracy. Featuring a community potluck, guests are invited to bring a dish to share. Co-hosted by Community Health for Asian Americans. RSVP on Facebook!

Curator: Michelle A. Lee

Juror: Dr. Margo L. Machida, Professor of Art History & Asian American Studies at the University of Connecticut



Susan Almazol | Sigi Arnejo | Jung Ran Bae | Mitsuko Brooks | Ka Yan Cheung | Karen Chew | Flora Choi | Melissa Chow | Samantha Chundur | Kay Cuajunco | Alison Ho | Grace Jahng Lee | Zilka Joseph | Juliana Kang | Robinson | Larry Lee & Jason Dunda | Theresa Loong | Alana Lowe | Cathy Lu | Mieko Meguro | Michiko Murakami | Chee Wang Ng | Genevieve Erin O’Brien with Aaron Henderson & Grace Umali | Jessica Redmond | Margaret Rhee | kate hers RHEE | Yoshie Sakai | Shizue Seigel | Pallavi Sharma | Jessica Tang | Cynthia Tom | Christine Toy Johnson | Frances Wang | Michael Watson | Maggie Wong | Leslie Zeitler | Sara Zin


AAWAA and Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center (APICC) join forces to present the multidisciplinary art exhibition Eating Cultures, for the United States of Asian America Festival throughout May 2014. Featuring over thirty emerging and established Asian Pacific American artists from around the country, Eating Cultures is a deliciously provocative multi-disciplinary arts exhibition of artworks inspired by Asian American food and foodways. Using food as a lens, artist share stories of global migration, adaptation, entrepreneurship, and the central importance of food in Asian communities around the world. In addition to over fifty art, film, and literary works, Eating Cultures will feature Asian American oral histories provided by Southern Foodways Alliancevia Guide by Cell, dynamic programming co-presented by Asia Society and the Culinary Historians of Northern California, a pop-up shop, and a recipe wall for audiences to share their favorite family recipes.


Food is intimately connected to the histories, cultures, and communities of Asian Pacific Americans. From the beginning Asian Americans have played a crucial role in the preparation, consumption, and production of food within the United States. Food strengthens community ties, creates and reinforces cultural identity, and for many provides a taste of love, warmth, and memories of home. While Asian Americans have experienced difficulty making significant inroads into American movies, television, politics, music or art, our food has had an outsized impact on the culinary landscape of the United States. Currently there are more Chinese restaurants in the United States than McDonalds, Burger Kings, and Jack n’ the Boxes combined. In many cases restaurants are the only place one encounters Asian cultures and people in a given locale. Despite, or more likely because of, its ubiquity, Asian and Asian American foods are often used to create or perpetuate representations of the “exotic Orient” and justify xenophobic or racist actions and sentiments. Conversely, APA foods are also a means of bridging cultural gaps, encouraging inclusion and acceptance, expressing aspirations, and negotiating and reinventing notions of “Asian American-ness”.

The title “Eating Cultures” accommodates multiple different readings, at once referring to both the central importance of food in many Asian cultures, as well as the problematic fetishization, objectification and consumption of Asian foods, cultures, and people by others outside (and within) APA communities. Whether approaching APA food and foodways as personal rituals, geopolitical bargaining chips, the subject of voyeuristic fantasies, or a means of cultural survival, this diverse group of talented artists share their own deliciously provocative visions and readings of what it means to eat in Asian Pacific America.



EATING ASIAN AMERICA PANEL DISCUSSION | Saturday, May 10, 2014. 2-4pm. Co-presented by the Culinary Historians of Northern California. RSVP on Facebook!

From Chop Suey to Korean tacos, Asian American food’s popularity has a profound impact on the way we perceive Asian Americans. Join food scholars and contributors of the Eating Asian America anthology Lok Siu and Mark Padoongpatt, Thy Tran of Asian Culinary Forum and moderator Erica J. Peters of the Culinary Historians of Northern California for a rousing discussion of the history, development, and cultural significance of Asian foods in America and its impact on our understanding of “Asian American-ness”.


Erica J. Peters, moderator, Culinary Historians of Northern California.

Mark Padoongpatt, Asst. Prof. in the interdisciplinary degree programs at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, author of “ ‘Oriental Cookery’: Devouring Asian and Pacific Cuisine during the Cold War” and ‘Too Hot to Handle Food, Empire, and Race in Thai Los Angeles’, the first-ever comprehensive history of Thai food in the United States.

Lok Siu, Assoc. Prof. of Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley, author of “Twenty-First Century Food Trucks: Mobility, Social Media, and Urban Hipness”.

Thy Tran, founder and director of Asian Culinary Forum, co-author of “The Essentials of Asian Cooking, Taste of the World”, and author of Wandering Spoon food blog.

LITERARY SRIRACHA | Saturday, May 17, 2014. 2-4pm. Co-presented by Asia Society. RSVP on Facebook!

A mix of poetry, mini-memoirs, and flash fiction curated by journalist and writer May-lee Chai. Asian Pacific American writers and poets are asked to submit new works in response to the artwork in the show. Come hear they’re reactions in this unconventional reading that melds poetry, visual art, and prose.


Winberg Chai is the author of more than twenty books on Asia and co-author, most recently, of a family memoir, The Girl from Purple Mountain as well as China A to Z. Born in Shanghai, he immigrated to the United States after World War II in 1950. He is a professor emeritus of political science from the University of Wyoming.

Qingmei Chen is a practicing acupuncturist. Born in Guangdong Province, she immigrated with her family to San Francisco when she was seven. She has a BA in Psychology from UC-Santa Cruz and a Master’s in Traditional Chinese Medicine from the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine. She is currently at work on a novel.

Gwynn Gacosta has a B.A. in political science from UC-Berkeley and an M.A. in English-Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. She works as a Special Education para educator for the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District, as well as a tutor for Sylvan Learning Center’s after-school literacy program.  She is the mother of two boys. She writes frequently about the Filipino Diaspora.

George Lew has studied at Amherst College and Peking University. A native of San Francisco’s Chinatown, he has traveled worldwide and speaks five languages. He is currently working on a research project on the all-too-often overlooked Maritime Silk Road. In his spare time, George enjoys used bookstores, horticulture, and rare hand-woven textiles from around the world.

Shizue Seigel is a third-generation Japanese American who explores history, place and spirituality through visual art, prose and poetry. She was chief cartographer for “Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas” and recently spoke at the National World War II Museum about her book In Good Conscience: Supporting Japanese American during the Internment .

Debanti Sengupta is a scientist by training. She received a Bachelor’s Degree from Amherst College, and a PhD in Chemistry from Stanford. She has also lived on three different continents, and has been nourished by Indian achaars, African piri piri, Thai nam prik pao, and American hot sauce.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Michigan and Hawai’i. She writes for ethnic new media, teaches Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies at University of Michigan, has published three chapbooks of prose poetry, and she will have a multimedia artwork with Jyoti Omi Chowdhury entitled, “Dreams of the Diaspora,” as part of a Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center Indian American Heritage Project online and traveling art exhibition. Check out

**Admission to the exhibition and programs is free and open to the public.


Funded in part by API Cultural Center, California Arts Council, Robert J. Louie Memorial Fund, San Francisco Arts Commission, Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation and the Zellerbach Family Foundation. Venue support generously provided by SOMArts Cultural Center and San Francisco Arts Commission.