Social Change Through the Art of Food, by Fatima Khawaja

As published in London Link Volume 2, Issue 1.

Tahera Rawji has a flair for cooking. As a culinary artist based in Richmond, BC, she has a passion for teaching authentic recipes from Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Over the last 27 years, she has taught many personalized cooking classes, appeared on several TV shows in North America and published two successful books: Simply Indian: Sweet and Spicy Recipes from India, Pakistan and East Africa and Simply More Indian:More Sweet and Spicy Recipes from India, Pakistan and East Africa.

Friendly and animated, Tahera says that she shares more than recipes in her classes. She diligently researches and incorporates discussion on the historical time period and culture pertaining to each dish, such as the Mughals of India and regional differences when teaching Mughlai cuisine. More importantly, she discusses her culture and Muslim heritage with her students who are from various backgrounds and age groups. She is often questioned on issues prominent in the media such as hijab and halal food and she uses the opportunity to dispel common myths. Tahera insists that the nurturing aspect of food and sharing a meal goes a long way in building bridges between cultures and fostering intercultural understanding.

Carlos Silveira, professor of art at California State University–Long Beach, US, would agree. On his website (www.diversityweb.org), he states that art projects create a “critical consciousness” that pushes people into action. Art’s ability to be engaging and easily understood across different social, cultural and economic groups makes it a powerful tool for instigating social change. Consequently, many new art projects are emerging. Utilizing the talent of art educators and artists – photographers, actors, visual artists among others – they shed light on problems affecting society on the global, national and/or local scale. Issues range from hunger, racism, homelessness to human trafficking and world peace. Some inspiring examples are Photosensitive, Fifty Crows and Project Humanity.

As for Tahera, she advises artists to persevere in their efforts and to develop connections as they try to bring positive change to their communities through art. “Muslim women artists,” she says, “are important. Like the spices in a dish they add rich cultural flavour, color and diversity to a community.”