Although broken Chinese cuts my mouth like glass, the taste of home always heals the wounds.
For my degree project at the Rhode Island School of Design BFA Graphic Design, I focused on the practice of relearning and reclaiming my Chinese heritage as well as the narrative of the Asian-American experience. Specifically, I designed a project about food as a medium of cultural literacy (though we are far from our homelands, we draw closer to our cultural identities through cooking, eating, and sharing meals). The project is two-fold:
Part I: Cookbook
Part II: Comfort Food Quilt
In Asian households, we don’t often say “I love you.” Instead, we say, “Have you eaten yet?” (你吃了吗?) This is a deceivingly simple and mundane question. But for us, it bears the weight of relationships, of family, of connection. This statement addresses not only the love for a person, but also a concern for their overall health and well-being. When we fight with our parents, we don’t necessarily apologize afterwards. My mom just says, “Dinner is ready; come downstairs.” And without being asked, my dad would bring me a bowl of cut-up fruit while I’m doing homework. Food is our language of love and care. Which begs the question, what are we eating? And why? To which my answers respectively are, the food of our ancestors, to nourish our cultural identities.
I created this video as part of DP requirements at RISD; it sums up the narrative of my degree project and the process of its creation! And yes, that is me singing as a child.
Of course, in any project pertaining to food, the most reasonable deliverable to create is a cookbook. Thus, I wanted to design an introductory cookbook dedicated to other Asian-Americans going through the same things I had experienced. For this book I chose 9 recipes starting from easy, and each more challenging than the previous.
Because this is an introduction to Chinese cuisine, I wanted to help the reader in identifying unfamiliar ingredients and be able to look for them in markets. It's also helpful in learning Chinese terms and applying them in real life! Each ingredient is accompanied by an illustration, name, Chinese translation and pinyin pronunciation, as well as a short description. Each recipe's list of ingredients has a few notated with a red circle, which refers to this glossary.
As a second component partnered with the cookbook, I decided to create a quilt that serves as a literal metaphor for the term "comfort food" and how it can keep you warm and make you feel safe.
My day-of presentation was set up in the Graphic Design commons. I set up a cozy corner with rugs, a coffee table, and a TV to present my keynote. I printed and bound 4 copies of my cookbook, laid my quilt on a pedestal, and cooked 4 out of the 9 recipes detailed in my book. Lastly, I had a tablecloth printed with the recipe icons I designed.