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Caroline Hwang
July 23, 2020
Plate Lunch For Power Organizer: ‘It’s Time For Us To Take A Stand’
Caroline Hwang organized the “Plate Lunch For Power” fundraiser hoping to make a difference. It sold out within an hour.
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To borrow a bit of Hollywood hyperbole, it was the most ambitious crossover event in history - and one this town really, really wanted, apparently. On Tuesday, July 21st at 10am, “Plate Lunch For Power: Asian American Food Community For Black Lives” went live. By 11am, it had sold out completely.

The fundraiser, created by Los Angeles food stylists Caroline Hwang and Megan Tomino, brought together some of the biggest names in LA’s Asian American food community to create plates of food, with sales supporting The Okra Project (a collective that provides healthy, culturally-specific meals to Black trans people) and Lunch on Me, a Los Angeles-based non-profit dedicated to ending starvation in the city and supporting LA’s homeless community.

Like we said, the response was pretty positive. And some six hours after selling out, we caught up with Caroline Hwang to talk about organizing the event, the power of plate lunches, and why this was the moment to mobilize LA’s Asian American food community.

INFATUATION: Can you give us a bit of backstory on Plate Lunch For Power?

CH: “It just felt like we had to do something, you know? And the only thing that I really know how to do is food. So me and Megan Tomino, my partner for the event, decided to do a plate lunch fundraiser, because it seemed like the best way to get as many different people involved as possible. Plus, Megan is from Hawai’i, so plate lunches are totally up her alley.

“It was originally only going to be 50 plates, but it sort of grew way bigger than that, to the point where we’re now doing 200, plus a couple of a la carte items. We actually had to cut off contributions [from restaurants], because there were so many.”

The lineup is incredible - Pine & Crane, Needle, Luv2Eat, Burmese, Please!, etc. These are some of our favorite restaurants in the city.

“It’s definitely been amazing to see how everyone’s opened up - I didn’t think I could get so many people involved! And a large part of that was due to the photographers, Dylan + Jeni - they were able to connect us with a lot of people, since they’ve worked with so many restaurants.”

There are so many different countries and cuisines being represented, all on the same plate...

“Definitely. When we started reaching out to people, we were very aware of it not just being East Asians, and to make sure to include Southeast Asians as well. We’ve talked to so many Southeast Asians who have said that they don’t feel included in the Asian American community. So that was very important for us.”

And even the phrase, “Asian American food community for Black lives” - that’s really powerful.

“We just felt like it was important to represent us as not just allies, but as a community in real support of the whole Black Lives Matter movement. I’ve definitely had conversations with other Asian American friends lately where we all feel it - it’s our moment to speak out. We’ve been trained to be quiet for so long, you know? It’s time for us to take a stand.”

“It’s become clear to me that being passively anti-racist isn’t enough. Any opportunity to tangibly support and uplift Black Lives is one I need to take and run with.”

- Jessica Nicely of Burmese, Please!

How did you decide which organizations to partner with, or donate to?

“We wanted to raise money in support of Black lives as a movement, which is why we chose The Okra Project, which is a collective that seeks to address the global crisis faced by Black people, by providing them with healthy, home-cooked meals. Then we also wanted to support a local non-profit, so we partnered with Lunch on Me. They’re an LA-based organization that redistributes food that would have been wasted otherwise, and provides nutritious meals to the people living on Skid Row.”

Let’s talk about the actual plates. Did you assign items to specific people? Or how did you decide who was going to contribute what?

“Everyone kind of got to choose what to donate. We asked each contributor - whether that was a restaurant, chef, or any other food person - to just donate one thing. We provided all of the rice and the packaging. Initially, there were a lot of pickles, cold salads, and things like that. But then we were able to secure great proteins as well, in the end.”

Then from those ingredients, you created the menu?

“Right. There are five different plate lunches, of various sizes. Each version has a slightly different mix of items. For example, one of the bigger plates features thịt kho nước dừa - Vietnamese-style pork belly simmered in coconut juice - from Shawn Pham from Highland Park Brewery, and potato salad from Doubting Thomas. A smaller set might contain items like Pikunico’s fried chicken tenders or pancit chami from chef Lord Maynard.”

“When presented with an opportunity to contribute and give back to these two great organizations, I didn’t hesitate. As a minority restaurant owner and chef, both of these causes really resonated with me.”

- Ryan Wong, Owner of Needle

The response has been pretty amazing. How are you feeling about all of it?

“I don’t feel many emotions [laughs]. I’m very warmed by the open community we’ve been able to reach out to. It’s been truly amazing. [I’m] a bit overwhelmed, but I’m really happy that we sold out. I’m just kind of shocked that it went so quickly. I thought it was going to be like, five orders or something a day. I was literally sitting in a 99 Ranch parking lot this morning when I heard the news. I’m so touched by how generous and kind everyone’s been. I’m truly, truly touched.”

And for the people who didn’t secure a plate lunch, what are some other ways they can get involved?

“They can donate directly to the same causes/organizations we’re supporting, or it would be amazing if they could find smaller, even lesser-known GoFundMes or Patreons and support them there. That would be a great place to put their money, if they can.”

“Caroline has been extremely supportive since we opened, and even more so since the pandemic. There’s no better way to pay it forward than to be a part of her fundraiser and [support] a cause close to our heart.”

-Steep LA

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