Elia Ton-That is a high school sophomore from Chicago, Illinois. She started Savor Culture in August 2019 with the mission of promoting diversity and acceptance through food. Whenever she travels, whether it be to another country or a friend’s house, she loves experiencing new foods. She sees food as the perfect lens to learn about culture. Savor culture publishes user-submitted stories that detail one’s experience with their heritage and also publishes recipes for traditional foods.
Question 1 : We love how Savor Culture aims to promote diversity. How did you come up with the idea to use food to connect to different cultures?
The idea of using food as a means of connecting culture came to me very naturally. When I was little, I always noticed how my Mexican mother never wanted to eat Mexican food and my Vietnamese father never wanted to eat Vietnamese food. At first, this phenomenon was quite ironic to me, but as I grew up, I realized that many people, not just my parents, are ashamed of their culture. It even affected me too. The moment when it really hit me was when I was tutoring refugee children new to America; they always chose American foods like donuts and hid the curries their mothers would pack them. However, once they shared their food with me and I expressed my appreciation, they were much more proud of their food and ultimately where they came from.
Through the experience of talking about food, I was able to create bonds with many of the children I tutored, and wanted to share this experience with our society.
Question 2 : What has been the most challenging and most satisfying parts of starting Savor Culture so far?
We are still in the very early processes of starting Savor Culture. Our main challenge right now is attracting Chicagoland area youth to help plan real-life, in person events. However, we have been successful in spreading the word about our initiative through social media. I would attribute a lot of this publicity to other youth-led organizations on social media all around the world. They have collectively created an open-minded community where teens can share their ideas and spark change, and I am grateful for their acceptance of Savor Culture.
Question 3 : Obviously, having good teammates is crucial to making a team work. With that in mind, what do you look for in a team member?
An ideal team member would communicate clearly and as quickly as possible, would be passionate about the cause, but most of all, bring new ideas to the table. We always welcome new, innovative ways to engage the community with food.
Question 4 : Could you tell us more about the types of events Savor Culture plans to organize in the future?
We plan to host international food fairs at many levels. In these fairs, we would have different booths or tents run by people of different cultures who would be showcasing traditional food. The challenge with these events is that those people would have to be volunteers.
we believe food and culture accessibility is a right and should be free.
We were thinking of hosting these in schools, in neighbourhoods, and other places to spread our message around our community.
In the future, we also plan to launch an initiative based on food sustainability and food waste. It has become a pressing issue in our society that we throw away so much good food. This issue is especially prevalent within large supermarkets, restaurants, and one-time food events. An unearthly amount of food could be repurposed to feed the hungry. We also want to address how some communities lack healthy foods by teaming up with small, local farms and chefs for one-day events. In addition to providing those in these communities with food, we would also like to provide empowerment services such as educational and entrepreneurial opportunities. Like with our online initiatives, we would help them share their voice with the world.
Question 5 : Who are your role models?
I am really inspired by Nadya Okamoto and her work with the PERIOD movement. I also idolize Pardis Sabeti, an Iranian-American geneticist. Both remind me that there are changemakers out there that I have a lot in common with. They give me hope about the leaders of the future and how women of color, like me, will be represented.
Question 6 : Have any of your passions and hobbies influenced the creation process of Savor Culture?
Yes! I am very passionate about equitable education and the overall cultural acceptance of immigrants and refugees (especially children) into our society. Like I said before, I tutor at a center for refugee children and love reading with them, teaching math, and overall getting to know their experiences in America. I am also passionate about environmental science and STEAM in general. I think that overall, my passions, extracurriculars, but most of all the people I share my interests with all contributed to inspiring Savor Culture.
Question 7 : What advice would you give to someone interested in promoting diversity?
I would say that each and every small act of kindness can cause something big. It’s kind of like a domino effect. Speak out against injustice whenever you can. Your strength and confidence will project to others, who will then promote diversity in their own situations.
Be kind, caring, and respectful towards anyone who is “different” in some way, because diversity is truly the factor that will drive our society forward. Most of all, be yourself and be confident about what you bring to the table!
Question 8 : What’s your favorite type of cuisine?
That’s such a hard question! Recently, I have been getting really into Brazilian food. It is so flavorful and delicious, and I think it really represents the rich history and blend of cultures in Brazil. Plus, pão de queijo may be one of the most addicting foods ever. However, I have to say that Mexican and Vietnamese foods are my favorites forever. There’s something so special about home cooked food.
Follow Savor Culture on their platforms!
Instagram: @savorculture (http://instagram.com/savorculture)