Heritage, food and family: we interview Vancouver’s hua foundation

How do you infuse new ideas into traditional ways of cooking? Through cooking with grandma, of course!

How do heritage, sustainability and food connect for your family? For Kevin Huang, Executive Director of Vancouver’s hua foundation, making these connections is his daily work. Hua foundation encourages Chinese-Canadian youth to participate in social and environmental change. For several of their projects, that empowerment starts around the kitchen table, teaching people how to sustainably source and cook traditional family recipes. As part of their food outreach, hua foundation offers cooking with grandma workshops, where a grandma teaches eager students to shop for and cook traditional recipes. We caught up with Kevin to find out more.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Better Together: Tell us about your cooking workshops! You’ve pointed out there’s a network of food and history that connects Chinatown’s seniors. How are you getting other generations involved?

Kevin Huang: Our organization actually has a mandate to work with youth, but our programming is open to everybody as a way to create community that is intergenerational. We do that through creating food spaces and bringing in our grandmas to share the food knowledge that they’ve accumulated over their lives. We wanted to bring the grandmas in because we often don’t see them as participating in these kinds of community efforts, but we wanted to find a way to get them involved and to share their food knowledge with youth who might not have access to it.

There is a notion that young people should study instead of learning how to cook, and so they miss out on that opportunity to learn. Yet here they are, coming back, wanting to learn how to cook some of those items that give them a comfortable sense of home.

BT: Do you have a sense of how the grandmas feel about the workshops?

KH: I think initially they found it quite funny that we wanted to do this. But all the grandmas that we worked with have been quite enthusiastic and wanting to do more. I also think that people are really happy that there’s a certain generation that we’ve been organizing that’s coming back to their cultural roots.

BT: You said that you’re bringing your cooking workshops back for the summer—where can people find out more about hua foundation’s cooking workshops?

KH: For us, preparing the workshops contributes to community food literacy and individual food literacy. We’re hoping to run the workshops every other week—just to get people involved in the neighbourhood and also to teach people how to access some of the traditional shops in Chinatown. This summer we will also offer a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box that’s primarily Asian Green focused. That part of the programming is trying to get people back into the neighbourhood, and also it’s a way to support local Chinese growers directly.

BT:  We’re intrigued by hua foundation's larger mission—can you tell us more about how sustainability, heritage and food connect for you?

KH: I think they’re very interconnected, even though we like to think of those things as separate—they’re things that we should try and advance for the social and community health of everybody. A sense of place—especially in cultural communities—resides in the local food movement. Through our advocacy, we’ve recently started to think about how we can make sure that people’s way of life—especially around food practices—is preserved, just because we’re seeing so much change in Chinatown. If you have a green-grocer and you have been buying from them for, say, the past 10 years, and the shop closes: that’s a loss to your social connections and a huge loss for many of the Chinese seniors in the neighbourhood. So we’re trying to figure out how to preserve that food history that’s embodied in Chinatown for the entire Lower Mainland, as well as maintaining some of these social spaces that are so key for a lot of the folks in the neighbourhood. We often think of culture as high-performance art or dances—but we (at hua) take an approach where culture is the day-to-day being, the social connections, even the intangible heritage in spaces: the sights, the smells, the way you feel when you’re in a certain space that makes you feel—oh wow, I know this space. And I think that food plays a big role in that. We want people to connect with their heritage, but also to welcome people to have a shared experience, have something different from their upbringing that’s unique in Vancouver.

Curious to see more of what hua foundation has to offer? Check out their Seasonal Choi Guide, a beautiful guide to Asian greens produced in BC's Lower Mainland. You can also learn to sprout and grow your own choi, or learn more about their partnership with OceanWise to highlight environmentally-friendly menu options at Chinese restaurants. They're also working hard on teaching about Vancouver Chinatown's heritage. Did this interview make you hungry? Community member Lila attended one of hua foundation's workshops with her dad, and she'll show you how to cook Fried Rice. Or, try some of our community's favourite family recipes: we've got a wonderful grandma-led dumpling-making how-to video here, as well as an easy recipe for sweet date zong zi if you're in the mood for something sweeter...and please share your favourite recipes with us over on our Facebook and Instagram feeds!

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