Food Non-Fiction explores food cultures locally and worldwide

UBC alumna Lillian Yang recently found herself in an uncomfortable Skype conversation with the Deputy Mayor of Buñol, a small town in Valencia that is host to the famed annual “La Tomatina” -- the world’s largest tomato fight.

“It was the most awkward conversation ever,” said Yang. “There was this insane echoing sound, so he couldn’t make out what I was saying, and what he could make out he could barely understand. It was really embarrassing to talk like that.”

As the creator of a new podcast, Food Non-Fiction, this kind of thing happens to her a lot.

Yang’s selection of slightly off-the-wall topics and interviewees has allowed her podcast to gain some early traction in the world of food podcasting. Two months into the project, Food Non-Fiction can often be found in iTunes’ New and Noteworthy section, alongside shows from established media companies like America’s Test Kitchen and Eater magazine.

In doing research for her show, Yang has interviewed CEOs, startup founders and assorted strangers from all over the world. This particular interview was done as part of her recent episode on “The World’s Greatest Food Fight,” which also featured a UK man -– found via Reddit -– who at 11 years old, was part of a primary school food fight that turned into a full-on riot.

“It was very hard to get an interview with someone talking about a food fight, and we knew we wanted one,” she said. “We basically found someone on Reddit in the Ask Me Anything section. I fact-checked everything he told me, and it all came together.”

The podcast is co-hosted by Yang and her fellow Neuroscience grad, Fakhri Shafai. A fan of podcasts herself, with a background in journalism and recording, (Yang worked with Discorder magazine while at UBC) Yang decided to create her own show on a subject that interested her. After discarding a few other ideas -- yoga and Pokemon were two possible options -- she settled on a topic with a broad range of appeal: food.

“It’s for anyone that likes to eat,” says Yang. “It seemed like the best option; it seemed like anyone could listen to it and follow it.”

And although “food podcast” can mean just about anything, Food Non-Fiction focuses particularly on fun facts and historical information about food rather than just cooking and recipes. A few examples include episodes titled: “Benjamin Franklin the Foodie” and “Eating Insects: Parts One and Two.”

Upcoming episodes will include a show about prison foods from around the world, and “dark dining” -- a type of restaurant where customers are served in the dark by blind waiters, and cannot see the food they’re eating.

“I’ve always wondered what the place looks like with the lights turned on, and just things that you can’t Google," said Yang. "What does their food actually look like? Do they even bother presenting it at all, or is it just slop on your plate? I’m gonna try to get them to let me take pictures and answer those questions.”

Long-term, Yang hopes to reach 5,000 listeners per episode per month, at which point she’ll start pursuing commercial sponsors. With the added support of sponsorship, she hopes to quit her day job -- Yang currently works full-time as a web marketer -- and work on the podcast full-time.

Another long-term goal: to have Mindy Kaling appear on the show and talk about her love of cheeseburgers.

“She hasn’t [tweeted me back], but I have plans for that too. Eventually, I’m sure I’ll get her.”