You Are What You Eat

You Are What You Eat is a cook book that explores Asian American Identity through profiles of childhood recipes. It was a collaboration with my good friend Noa Batle. Read our entire recipe book complete with interviews!

The Idea

Asian Americans love food. For both Noa and I, food had always been a huge part of our identities and a major way for us to relate to our families. Despite different asian backgrounds, we found that food had the same importance to both of us and our cultures. The more we spoke to friends, the more we realized that this was a common thread for a lot of other Asian Americans too, so we thought it might be interesting to do portraits of people through one of their favorite ethnic childhood dishes.

The Process

We had participants choose a dish from childhood that represented something meaningful for them. They shared a recipe, prepared the dish, and brought it over to be photographed and for them to be interviewed. We asked a series of questions like

  • How does your cultural cuisine inform your Asian American Identity? How does your identity inspire your cooking?
  • What is your relationship to your asia cultural cuisine? How often did you eat it with family?
  • From which family member did you learn this recipe? How were you taught to prepare this dish? Do you prepare it the same way? If not, how do you prepare the dish differently from the way you learn it, and why?

We compiled the results into a cook book that showcases Asian Americans through the lens of a meaningful childhood dish.

The Result

The cookbook contains nearly 20 recipes from Asian Americans including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Vietnamese, and Taiwanese dishes, and our hunch was correct. Almost every single participant had incredibly meaningful memories with their dish.


Division of Labor

Noa came up with the overarching concept of the cookbook, so he was project lead. I assisted him with organizing photoshoots, and my main responsibilities included taking and editing photos, as well as designing the overall layout of the book.

Book Layout

The entire cookbook is 39 pages, so it would have been possible to do the entire thing manually, but it would have been inefficient, especially if we ever wanted to include more recipes in the future. InDesign has some cool automation tools like data merge, which allows you to map .csv data to different pages following a specific layout. I had used this once before to make a card game with cards that all had the same layout but different text values. I knew that this workflow would be perfect for this book. Below is a snapshot of the source data that I would use to create the final book.

Because I used this method to automatically fill the pages with dynamic data, I had to design a layout that would accommodate all of the variations across the data — some interviews were long, others had really long recipes, etc. The layout mostly worked, so after the fact, cleaning up small details like overset text was easy. The most tedious part of the process was applying styles to the generated pages. We had to create paragraph styles then apply those to certain parts of the text.

Let me know what you think of this project in the comments and find other projects here!

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