Food Ink 20

Quantity Begets Quality, Asian Excitement, Recent Roundup, 100 Days Celebration

(6 minute read)‍

Hello friends and farmers,

I missed sending a newsletter last week 😩 - my first miss so far in this two-month experiment! But, if there's anything I've learned from the decade plus I've spent trying to establish all sorts of habits, it's that they are less about being perfect and more about getting right back to it, even (or especially) after every miss.

Sidebar: I've always had a tough time really internalizing this idea. My perfectionist inner critic would drive me to beat myself up every time I botched a streak, which in turn would derail further progress and land me back at square one, except with fewer days ahead and with a heavier sense of failure. Finally stepping back and fully acknowledging how debilitating and counterproductive this perfectionist mindset can be, I've stopped shooting for perfect. For now, I'm shooting for good enough. And achieving good enough as many times as possible, trusting that each time, my good enough will get better and better until pretty soon, I am effortlessly performing at the level that I would have been each time I struggled for perfect. Because quantity begets quality.

There's a popular anecdote about this somewhat counterintuitive relationship between quantity and quality. It comes from the book Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. A ceramics teacher tells half his class they'll be graded on quantity and the other half on quality. At the end of the term, the highest quality works end up coming from the students being graded on quantity, those who spent the semester producing piles of work and learning from their mistakes along the way rather than theorizing and focusing on perfection. (Here's the brief, quoted excerpt from the book if you haven't heard the story.)

I've come across this parable so many times in my dwellings through the Productivity-Industrial Complex Hall of Mirrors. (Random sidebar within the sidebar: it turns out that the story was based on a photography class, though the moral seems to apply across disciplines). Yet reading this story over and over, in many different contexts, didn't make it any easier to internalize the lesson. Part of the challenge, for me, was my relationship with shame and my perfectionist inner critic. Part of the solution has been mindful self-compassion.

As woo-woo as that sounds, there's indeed a scientific basis for the power of self-compassion in dismantling self-criticizing habits. I've been taking a course these past couple months to practice and train in self-compassion and can honestly say it's been a game changer. But more on that another time.

To wrap up this aside, I want to express my sincere appreciation and gratitude to everyone subscribed to this humble newsletter (1,400 and counting) for remaining interested in this journey, sharing your thoughts and feedback when something resonates, and bearing with me as I stumble through it all.

Next week should technically be my last week of the experiment, but I think I'll keep the weekly(ish) format going, at least through the rest of May. Quantity begets quality! But also May is AAPI Heritage Month, and for the first time (maybe ever?), I feel excited to be an Asian American. That's almost 34 years on this planet, and only now am I beginning to take pride and joy in my heritage. I shared a bit about this before - the internalized self-hatred, the aspiration to Whiteness - and I plan to expand on that more later. For now, I want to focus on why I'm excited!

But first, it looks like the last few newsletters only went out to about a third of subscribers 🤦🏻. I hope that issue is fixed now, and so if you didn't receive them, here's a roundup of each edition since Food Ink went weekly:

Now, on to the excitement...

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🥬 I’m super excited to finally share this project: Choy Commons. It’s a collaboration between some awesome Asian American farmers and organizers in New York City and the Hudson Valley.

I got involved with them at the beginning of the year, and our aim is to connect AAPI growers, mutual aid, and community-based organizations to preserve our ancestral foodways and provide culturally resonant produce to those in our community experiencing food insecurity, particularly elders.

Since moving back to New York, I’ve felt a little lost and disconnected. After spending all this time on farms in the Bay Area and Georgia, I had built this network of farmers and ranchers on opposite ends of the country but barely knew any near the place I call home.

That all changed near the end of last year when I met ex-tech designer turned farmer Nicole Yeo and then this amazing band of young Asian American farmers and educators, Larry Tse, Christina Chan, and Anna Pelavin.

They, and this project, have inspired me and made me hopeful again. There's meaning here, in what we're doing. There's connection, to land and each other, and a sense of belonging. Working with them and seeing this project come to fruition has reminded me of the power of community and what it can create.

And I'm so excited for what we have planned this year!

We are piloting at a series of night markets with Think!Chinatown and gleaning* events on farms in our region.‍

*Gleaning is the practice of inviting community members to harvest excess crops from farm fields to share with those in need. Through a series of monthly gleaning events, we will build capacity for AAPI growers and provide restorative farming experiences for grassroots groups that serve AAPI communities in NYC. Organizations will be paired with farms to glean for their distribution of choice, share a meal, and learn with one another.‍

Here's a quick TimeOut writeup on the Chinatown Night Market.

The basics: arts, food, performances.

My expected vibe in five emojis: 🎏🎊🥢🥡🏮

First one is May 20, 8-11pm at Forsyth Plaza.

Follow Choy Commons on Instagram for updates and join us at the night market and upcoming gleaning events. You don't even have to be Asian!

And if you're extra excited about what we're doing, get involved here.

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🔮 I'm also excited for things like this: Asian American Futures, the next First Saturdays at Brooklyn Museum. Free, this Saturday, May 7 from 5–11 pm (advanced registration required).

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📺 Finally, I'm excited about all the great films and series that have been coming out centering AAPI characters and perspectives. I recently watched Turning Red and absolutely loved it. It captures the generational trauma of the Asian diaspora so well and depicts emotions in a refreshing way.

There was apparently some controversy related to the film when one review characterized it as unrelatable, calling it "limiting" and "exhausting." The review was from CinemaBlend's managing director Sean O'Connell and has since been removed. Pay no mind to this (ironically) very limited White male-centric perspective! If you have any empathetic competency at all, there's a lot of emotions, friendships, and family dynamics that make the story very human and universal. And if you don't, consider it an additional datapoint and practice in seeing the world through another perspective!

Another great watch is Korean Pork Belly Rhapsody, from the same makers of the Hanwoo Rhapsody limited series that I've recommended before. The aesthetic is just as strong and two-part series similarly mixes history with the modern context of pork in Korean cuisine. Great with a side of 돼지불고기 (dwaejibulgogi) or spicy barbecued pork. My recipe modification aka my mom's advice: leave out the sugar and go for a sweet onion in the purée.

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😊 Delight No. 9: My niece is about to be 100 days old, and that's a big celebratory milestone in Korean culture. Called "baek-il" in Korean, the 100th day is important because the survival rate for newborns used to be very low in Korea. The celebration usually involves a spread of different foods, traditionally as offerings to the spirit of childbirth, including rice cakes. Lots of different rice cakes. I'm excited to see my tiny, pudgy niece (for only the third time) this weekend. And to stuff my face with rice cake.

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Betting the farm,

Edlin