They say if you want to get something done give it to a busy person, and Lee Tran Lam is very, very busy. If you have engaged with Sydney’s lifestyle media in any way over the last decade and a half you’ll have come across her byline, whether it’s on her long-serving food blog, her community radio show, or her freelance journalism for Good Food, Gourmet Traveller, SBS Food and Time Out.
Now Lam has added activist to her crowded CV. She’s the editor of a new collection of food writings designed to address the lack of diversity in food media. It stemmed from an Instagram account she started called Diversity in Food Media where she began profiling writers, chefs, photographers and other content makers from diverse backgrounds.
New Voices on Food is being published by new era custom publishing house, Somekind. They have developed a new publishing model, similar to crowdfunding. It’s a sustainable model that means everyone who works on the books works to profit share, so the books require no initial financial investment and if enough people pre-order they know they have an audience and the book gets made. So far Lankan Filling Station, PnV Liquor Merchants, Woy Woy Fisherman’s Wharf and Boon Luck Farm have all set their tales to print.
“As a freelancer I don’t have heaps of power, but as an editor you have more power to change that [lack of diversity]. Media outlets also don’t have the budget right now so there wasn’t a chance for new voices to join the conversation. I started the Instagram account so I could champion diverse voices with the zero budget I had. In July I contacted Somekind and they were enthusiastic; in August we opened submissions; in September I picked what was in the book. There was a moment where I worried “What if the new voices don’t come”. By the last day I was getting something every ten minutes. I replied to everyone personally to try and be encouraging because I know how vulnerable it makes you feel to send something out there. My aim is not just to produce the book, but to have a wave of people feel empowered to write more, take more photos and put their work out there more,” she says.
The book contains 10 entries that range from a treatise on soul food from Tyree Barnette, who runs a vegan soul food business in Sydney; a piece by Arabella Douglas, a Minyungbal woman from Fingal Head; words from Chloe Sargeant, who explores the way cooking has helped her manage her chronic illness; and photographs from Natalie Estay Valenzuela of Chile’s picadas (street carts).
New Voices on Food, Anthology No.1 is due out in November 2020. You can order your copy through Somekind for $22.