Food & Consciousness

Food, Love & Memories is a bimonthly column devoted to the evocative connections between the heart, food & soul. We invite you to share your story+recipe for future columns. More details here.


From gelato at Giolitti, kimchi at Sanchon, to kebop at Kara Mehmet Kebap Salonu, my vacation plans would inevitably start and end with at least half a dozen must-have comestibles. I am an amateur food aficionado; I write about food, take pictures of food, talk about food, and dream about food. Until recently, driving 80 miles from my apartment in Silicon Valley to Napa for an extra-large pistachio macaron at Bouchon seemed perfectly reasonable.

My tendency towards “foodieness” made sense, after all, I was raised by my parents to value food. In fact, my mother went to great lengths to teach me that wasting food, even a single grain of rice, was unacceptable. Both of my parents’ families had lost everything when the Burmese government seized the properties, investments, and businesses of “foreign” investors in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Their lives were turned upside down, and food, amongst other things, became a scarce resource. Their stories stuck with me and, as I got older, I made a conscious effort to avoid wasteful habits.

Over the last few years, this basic level of consciousness has evolved further. As I watched innocent civilians robbed of their families, homes, and food in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Burma, Sudan, and, most recently Palestine, my high-brow foodie preferences increasingly seemed obnoxious.

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Maghrib Memories

Photo credit: Les Talusan,

Photo credit: Les Talusan,

Three years just doesn’t have the same ring to it as one month, or one year, or two. At three years, you are supposed to be better. You are supposed to be healed. You are supposed to forget. Three years is a long time. It’s dismissive. Less empathetic. Condolences are non-existent and hugs are shorter.

I almost didn’t believe it. I had to look at the calendar and count backwards because it was unbelievable to me that so much time had passed.

On Monday, June 2nd, 2014 – it will have been three years since Mom died.

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The Legacy of Zines

Eds. note: Please welcome activist, storyteller, politico and Love InshAllah anthology contributor Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed as our newest columnist! Her column “Radical Love” will be published the first Tuesday of every month and will explore the connections between social justice & intentional love.

Photo credit: Les Talusan,

Photo credit: Les Talusan,

We thought we were doing something new. Something fresh and cutting edge. But something old too, building on “our” punk DIY roots. At one of the first meetings in my Oakland apartment two years ago, sitting around the dining table covered with fruits and dates, we passed around our collections of zines. These were those black and white zines. Those hand written zines. Those photocopied zines that were stapled zines.  These were zines that would magically appear in our postal mailbox, and how you got on the distro list you had no clue. That feeling of a personalized note slipped in to your envelope was nothing short of special. We too would create a DIY Zine that would combat Islamophobia in the most revolutionary way – through poetry and prose infused with love from the untold Muslims on the margins. That was our vision for the zines we would create from the Totally Radical Muslims.

This summer, at Los Angeles’ bimonthly bi-monthly Asian American poetry spot Tuesday Night Café. the Gidras made an appearance and it was the first time I heard about this collective driven publication. A short documentary was shown telling the story of the radical newspaper Gidra created by a group of students out of the University of California, Los Angeles. They dubbed themselves “the voice of the Asian American movement” and published monthly from April 1969 to April 1974. The only month they missed was the month when Cambodia was being bombed and they were out busy protesting. Their artists created political images to go with the pieces and they talked about how the art was just as important as the essay. They used lightboxes and had to physically cut and paste words. Gidra was, as described by one of the writers Robert Nakamura was not “about art, it wasn’t about self-expression, it wasn’t even about breaking stereotypes to the majority society. We wanted to break stereotypes to ourselves.”

Three of the activists were there – they are older now, leaders in the community that I’ve worked with but I never knew this about their past. It was heartening to see that their trajectory from student organizers to community leaders still had those radical roots. As they talked about their collective process and the difficulty of creating a newsletter without hierarchy, I laughed. It was just like the collective process of many of the groups I worked with, including in the Totally Radical Muslims zines.

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Leader. Inspiration. Muslim.

Congratulations to 15-year-old Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai and the 34 other women who made the Time 100 list!


Malala top 100

The Five Pillars of My Relationship

R.Karim pic

I’m a community organizer addressing men’s violence against women within the South Asian immigrant community.

“We have to connect with women’s organizations nationwide and learn about what they are doing. How do they speak to men and boys about this issue?” asked my supervisor. As I began to call my colleagues, I kept being directed to the same man who was an advocate on this issue.

We spoke a few times over the phone but our first meeting was at a domestic violence conference where we had both been invited to speak about our respective efforts to engage men. “Hi!” he said, extending his hand confidently to engulf mine in a firm handshake. “We’ll be meeting over at that table to discuss the details for tomorrow’s panel. Would you join us?” I excused myself from a conversation with a colleague to join him at the table.

He spoke of his work at a women’s shelter and how men’s violence against women was, in fact, alienating and destructive to men as well. But, a man at the helm of a shelter’s outreach efforts was unheard of. Many panelists and attendees were vehemently opposed to a man leading any aspect of the women’s movement. I initially concurred, but, over time, I came to realize that men’s role as the primary perpetrators of violence against women necessitated that they become an active part of the dialogue toward change.

There was much learning that came after that panel discussion, particularly as the two of us began to date.

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Loving after loss (Part 2)

I woke from deep slumber with the gray lights of dawn peeking in. I had fallen asleep in the middle of President re-elect Obama’s acceptance speech. Though the East Coast was celebrating, in California we were still waiting to see the turnout results come in on some heated statewide propositions.

I groggily snatched my bedside smartphone, and scrolled through my twitter feed. At 5am, the only people reporting were Obama-thrilled East Coasters or people overseas. I finally found what I was looking for. The local NPR station reported that we had won on Proposition 30. State government wasn’t going into crisis mode. Relieved and with a pounding headache, I buried my head under my covers and fell back asleep.

I found myself climbing a set of stairs inside a house with my civic engagement team from work. There was an atmosphere of elation, and bright pinks and blues. We were discussing going to an Election Day celebration party and I told them I’d meet them there – I needed to change. Still in campaign attire, I was in no condition to celebrate.
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