I was born and raised in Southern California. My mother was Hawaiian-born Japanese, and from the time I was a baby I would fly to Kona to visit family. No transpacific trip was possible without my mother making a Japanese-Hawaiian staple: spam musubi. The little bricks of nori, rice, and spam would fly with me thousands of miles keeping me full and not fussy. Over time these came to represent the love of my family and the promise of exciting travel.
When my mother passed away, my Caucasian father took up the tradition. Last summer we flew to Hawaii, and at the airport he pulled out 6 rolls of spam musubi that he’d prepared and gave me half. He had already splurged on first-class tickets that would include decent food, so he wasn’t worried about being hungry. He was carrying on family tradition. When the Hawaiian Airlines flight attendants saw them, they talked story with him (a blue-eyed haole with spam musubi!) and two strangers connected.
Food is a ubiquitous vehicle that shuttles the cultures and stories of one generation to the next. Seizing an opportunity to highlight the diversity of our upbringings and get in some pre-Thanksgiving chow, the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group (DIWG) at Lob used food as a social medium and held its First Annual Food From Your Childhood Potluck in November.
The idea was simple: bring a dish from your childhood and explain its significance. The result was better than we could have hoped for. From hong shao rou and lumpias, to chicken and dumplings and Mexican wedding cakes, we gathered round the lunch tables and shared the experiences of our upbringing.
There were a few unorthodox entries. Haleigh Clark and Justin Corpuz from our Marketing team joined together to bring frozen TV dinners. Haleigh explains that, “My mom was gone 4 nights a week, so I lived with my grandma who didn’t always have the energy to cook.” Justin had a similar experience: “My parents worked a lot of hours and didn’t have time to cook. They’d give me a Kid Cuisine and that was dinner for the night.”
While frozen dinners might not normally be on a potluck menu, Haleigh found that, “when people realized we were bringing TV dinners, almost everybody had that same story of, ‘that's what I ate growing up!’”
Account Executive Fay Hernandez agrees: “The TV dinners—I’ve had those before. I am the first generation in my family born in America and I had a lot of convenient American food growing up.”
Senior Product Manager Ami Wang brought in 土豆丝, (chinese shredded potatoes). “This is a super simple, classic Chinese dish I ate growing up. My mom would tease me because she ate these growing up poor on a farm in China and potatoes were cheap. I cook it for myself, but never brought it to a potluck because I’ve always thought it was too simple! It went over well so maybe I will start making it for others.”
By the end of the lunch hour, we had a chance to sample dishes and experiences that were both new and familiar. Ami noticed the marinated soy sauce eggs that engineer Tony Wu brought in. “My mom would make those same eggs and bring them when we were going on a long trip!”
Haleigh summed it up really well when she said, “It’s a lot easier for me to see sameness in people than to think about the different things we might have experienced, so I liked that dishes came from all over the world. It’s cool to think about the breadth of diversity.”
Sharing your background through food is a great way to start conversations you may never have anticipated. I encourage other companies to try this. Give everyone a chance to tell their story through delicious (or even not so delicious) foods. You’ll be amazed at the connections made with those around you.
Planning your own food from your childhood potluck? Have you done one in the past? Comment below or tag us on social media to let us know how it went!
Interested in trying out one of our Lob recipes? Try your hand at making Victoria's ooey gooey butter cake!