Food Writing has a Diversity Problem. This Journalist Is Trying to Change That.
Photo Credit: Jakub Kapusnak/Unsplash
Despite the hundreds of articles written about Indian, Chinese, Mexican, and other regional cuisines, food writers of color are often not given enough space in publications. Eileen Cho is one food journalist highlighting that lack of diversity in food writing. Her message is clear: writers of color know the culinary traditions of their heritage better than anyone, and these stories should be told by them.
Cho is a Korean American journalist and photographer based in Paris, France. “I was the news editor in college and then studied photography in grad school and went to culinary school in Korea,” Cho tells CircleAround. “I combined all three and now work as a photographer and journalist with a big focus on food.”
A Girl Scout alum, she has traveled extensively to capture the vast world of food, from as far north as the Finnish Laplands to the street food markets of Bangkok, Thailand. Cho especially tries to amplify Korean food and culture and is very vocal about the lack of diversity in food journalism. A big part of her work aims to change that dynamic.
“As a woman of color, I constantly have to fight to get heard and be seen, even with my expertise in Korean food,” she explains. “Food media has a long way to go when it comes to representation.”
After publishing a story on NPR titled, Korean Culinary Cures: From Tummy Aches to Hangovers, Here's How Moms Cook Up Relief, Cho got her big break into journalism. The story focused on her mother, an immigrant from Korea, and the foods Cho grew up with.
“It was on every NPR station and outlet in the U.S.,” she explains. “I loved that I was able to share my culture while celebrating my mom, who I took for granted growing up.”
Cho fights so hard for a more diverse world in food journalism because she knows there’s still a lot of Americans who don’t know about her cultural cuisine. She explains that Korean food is so much more than just BBQ and bibimbap and that food journalists of color are desperately needed to highlight the wide array of Korean dishes.
“Diversity is so important in food journalism because, for many people, it’s through food media that they see their cultures represented for the first time,” she tells CircleAround. In her research and experiences, she’s found that food is political as well as historical, scientific, and personal.
“I’m a Korean-born Korean American, and as much as I love writing about my culture’s food, it’s not the same for all Koreans and Korean Americans,” she explains. “Having more viewpoints makes the world of food more complete.”
One of Cho’s more personal photo collections, Memories of Korea, depicts images of food, family, and various shots from around South Korea, tying her work and her life in a beautiful way. “I think about Korea often, and I get to travel back through this series of photos,” she says. “Korea to me feels most like home and as an adult, before COVID.”
Her curiosity is never satisfied as she learns more and more about Korea’s culture and traditions with each trip. Her best friend, culinary advisor and fixer, Jain Song, often accompanies her to provide even more perspective.
Currently, Cho is working on a handful of stories on Korean food and a newsletter that takes a deeper dive into Korean culture and cuisine. She’s gotten creative within the COVID-19 restrictions in Paris, supporting local markets and discovering new favorites, while continuing to shout out her favorite spots — like Le Rigmarole — on her Instagram account.
“There is a tokenization problem in that one or a few voices represent a whole culture. The biggest reward is when I get emails from other Koreans and Korean-culture enthusiasts about how my work made them feel seen! I hope that I can help pave the way with my work to hold space for other voices that we need to hear in food.”