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Volume 100: April 19, 2019

"Black Slide Mantra," located in Chūō-ku, Sapporo, by Japanese American artist and landscape architect Isamu Noguchi. Photo courtesy

Putting the "heritage" in "heritage veggies"

When you think of farm-to-table or vegetable-forward trends, or, heck, even just farming as a concept, Asian Americans might not be the first to come to mind.

In fact, you probably think of white chefs and farmers: ones who espouse back-to-the-land movements and, well, non-”icky” Chinese food.

But as food writer Cathy Erway outlines in a new article for Eater, Asian American farmers boast centuries-old sustainable produce traditions. And they’re getting closer not only to the land, but to their cultural heritage.

Farming as cultural education

Korean American activist and farmer Kristyn Leach runs Namu Farm, providing produce for a famed San Francisco Korean restaurant and seeds with the century-old Kitazawa Seed Company.

Farming Korean melons and Korean perilla reconnected Leach, an adoptee, with her heritage, teaching her techniques she hopes to pass on to other Korean Americans.

Meanwhile, her partnership with Kitazawa aims to do for Korean vegetables what the heirloom seed movement has done for tomatoes and beans: showcase their unique attributes, and push amateur farmers to give Korean veggies a try.

Is it getting hot in here or is it just us

Still, the pressures of agricultural industry aren’t exactly absent. Small produce farms, often operated by Southeast Asian refugees, often start out chemical-free. But refugees often use chemicals just to keep up with industrial farmers.

That’s why Mai Nguyen, a Sonoma County farmer, wants to “regenerate the knowledge of how to manage the diverse ecosystems.” To do that, Nguyen has tried to drive resources to farmers of color, and preserve the connection between Asian tradition and sustainable farming.

Which means making sure those local food “trendsetters” don’t forget the roles Asian Americans have played with a personal and historical connection to sustainable farming.

Also, here’s why Chinese restaurants call themselves “lucky _____”

NOW PLAYING: When I first found April Soetarman through our own Chery Sutjahjo, I abruptly got lost on the Internet. Because finding April Soetarman is a surefire way to entertain yourself with like a gajillion different projects that Soetarman has worked on over the years. Soetarman’s “weird side projects,” as she calls them, range from “awkward conversation hearts” that help with the uncomfortable medium of words to inspiring street signs to help when you just need a pick-me-up on the road of life (and, uh, on an actual road).

Unfortunately, Soetarman’s projects seem to be missing from the Internet now, but pictures of them live on in this talk at Ignite Seattle, above. And her silliest projects, like her food-themed romance bot, live on.

“I’m trying to use these projects to be a better human being by using art to address my actions, and emotions, and mistakes,” says Soetarman. “Because if I could say it properly with words to your face, I wouldn’t have to say it with art.”

Andrew Hsieh, editor-in-chief, obvi here for side projects

Hasn't Hawaii gone through enough?

When a Chicago restaurant chain trademarked "Aloha Poke" last year, it did more than trademark its own name: it trademarked a Hawaiian phrase, and in doing so, jeopardized the names of poke shops across the country ... and in Hawaii itself.

Reminds us of when Disney mashed up traditional Hawaiian chants to create an original song for Lilo and Stitch ... and then copyrighted the words to those traditional chants.

Which is all to say that Native Hawaiian activists and politicians, like state Senator Jarrett Keohokalole, are a bit tired of their culture being window dressing for commercialism. And now, they're taking steps to "recognize and protect" Native Hawaiian tradition.

Here's what that means

To do this, Hawaii lawmakers are continuing an effort that predates the Aloha Poke situation, calling for legal protections for Native Hawaiian traditional and cultural intellectual property.

A proposed resolution would mandate a task force that would seek ways to to protect not only symbols and words, but also “genetic resources” like taro, a plant essential to Native Hawaiian culture.

It’s still being considered in the state senate. But it’s an attempt to prevent unthinking, crass commercialism of an indigenous people’s actual culture: something easily forgotten when Hawaiian culture is co-opted as corporate culture.

What other indigenous folx are doing

In New Zealand and Alaska, indigenous people can place signifiers on their art as a mark of authenticity—allowing non-indigenous people to create "indigenous-inspired" art and preventing claims that an indigenous person created it.

It’s a system the proposed resolution in Hawaii refers to, though it’s difficult to enforce, especially overseas.

Still, there’s precedence, and it’s in the spirit of compromise. After all, says Kuhio Lewis, CEO of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, Native Hawaiians just want some cultural sensitivity.

The history of poke

This caravan is all caravans, churning slowly awake
human tide rubbing human hide with smiles and deceits
Running super fast in the belly of the snake
Through dry winds poison fire and ache

— Mrinalini Chakravorty, poet, from "Caravan to Cox's Bazaar"

This Weekend ... 📅

  • READ IT AND WEEP: Mira Jacob’s new graphic memoir, Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations is out now. Using drawings, photographs, and intersecting speech bubbles that weave through a colorful cast of characters, including Jacob’s family in India, her immigrant mother, and her biracial son, the memoir tells a familiar story of parenthood and gives it a fresh take that is somehow simultaneously side-splittingly funny and heartrendingly sad.

  • WATCH HIM SHINE: Ian Alexander, best known for playing Buck Vu on Netflix’s The OA, discusses his experience coming out as transgender with Ellen Degeneres. Ask yourself if you were anywhere near his level of grace and poise when you were seventeen… and watch his show!

  • COUNT ‘EM UP: There are three Democrats running for president in 2020 who are Asian and/or Pacific Islander: Kamala Harris, who is looking to Indian Americans for support, Andrew Yang, who is launching a counteroffensive against automation, and Tulsi Gabbard, who is American Samoan and is the first Hindu member of Congress. We’ll keep a sharp eye on them as the race continues!

  • GO AHEAD, EAT CHOCOLATE: And while you’re at it, why not try flavors like pho, cempedak, salted mango, and adobo? Move over, Nestlé; Southeast Asian artisanal chocolatiers are really stepping up their game as they infuse the world’s favorite confection with local specialties even Willy Wonka couldn’t dream of.
This week's stories are curated by Andrew Cheng, editor, who hopes to find lychee chocolate in his Easter egg come Sunday. Got a tip, or just want to share? E-mail us at

The Slant is brought to you by:


Brian Hsieh • Marina Cheung • Billy Huang • Kevin Lin • Paulina Dao


AJ Grey • Delwin Lau • Mandy Diec • Carl Shan


Patrick Trinh • Lloyd Lee • Emily Chi • Naomi Iwata • Kyla Hsia


Gloria Lin • Yi Cao • Cat Xia • Curtis Leung


Crystal Shei • Jerome Finuliar • Ryan Ikeda • Meher Kohli • Matt Young • Sooyun Choi • Abby Wang • Tracey Baumann • Mika Kennedy • James Boo • Chris Moe • Alexander Quion • Jeffrey Wang • Vivi Nguyen


Angela Yang • Diane Lee • Katherine Chin • Paul Kerr • Talisa Chang • Claire Tran • Sara Mitchell • Teresa Nguyen

who are and will always be our favorite people.

See ya next time.
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