Journeys through food

As the Covid-19 pandemic set in, horrifying and demoralising reports of racist abuse endured by members of the Chinese community across the UK and beyond began to emerge, against a background of inflammatory political rhetoric, notably from then-President Trump in the United States.

In an excellent article published on Open Democracy in April 2021, Isaac Muk explored the history of Anti-East Asian racism in the West, in the context of the pandemic, and drawing on his own experience growing up in south-east London.

Our early conversations about this film were informed by these distressing contexts, and a wish to foreground the voices and experience of students from China living and working at the university. We were guided in these discussions by brilliant advice from Dr Lucienne Loh in the Department of English at Liverpool, who has been active in the Covid-19 Anti-Racism Group. Rather than place the emphasis on the pandemic, Dr Loh suggested we look instead at the food cultures of the Chinese student community here. Exploring this subject through interviews with students immediately gave us access to individual yet relatable experience, and allowed the students to lead us towards issues of cultural identity, difference, and assimilation in bright, stimulating, and revealing ways.

The film is based on interviews with two XLJTU students, who we have called Sherry and Richard. As with all the Whose History? scripts, it is a verbatim piece: we have not changed any of the words our interviewees gave us. We took an empirical approach in the interviews and asked each interviewee the same questions, about their favourite foods, ingredients and brands; about their habits and preferences when shopping; whether, how often, and with whom they cook; and whether they had brought recipes from home with them to Liverpool, or would cook dishes they first tried in the UK at home in China. But these fixed starting points immediately opened up distinctive and divergent perspectives.

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