While this interview is focused on how Jane Ong and her team at Neophyto Foods have pivoted due to COVID-19, this is her reflection on recent events related to race and discrimination, through the lens of her own experience as a POC woman and female scientist.
Since I’m not black, I can’t really speak to what’s going on with the Black Lives Matter movement, but I can touch a bit on my feelings about POC representation. To give some background on where I’m from, my race is Chinese, but I was born and raised in Singapore. When I was young, my family moved to the United States, where I completed my middle school and high school years, and then I moved to Canada, where I’ve been ever since. Growing up as an immigrant in a foreign country, there have been many times where I’ve felt like an outsider, not only because of the colour of my skin, but also my upbringing and accent. However, I’ve been very fortunate to not have experienced any of the traditional racial discrimination.
That being said, I’ve been made to feel like the token minority in the past, and that’s something I want to address. As we discuss how to right the wrongs of racial discrimination, we need to be careful to not to fall into the trap of uplifting an individual simply because of their race. There have been times where I’ve been chosen for a role or showcased seemingly because I’m a minority. I remember a specific incident where I was recommended for a position, and the organizer mentioned that she was looking for someone “as diverse as possible” to fill the role. In those instances, I questioned my skills and my abilities and I wondered if I was only as good as my race. I knew that I was an impressive person who had accomplished a lot, but here was someone telling me that they wanted to highlight me not because of what I’d done, but because of the colour of my skin. When you showcase me as your token minority, what you are telling me is that I can’t achieve these things on my own, but that I need a boost from my skin colour.
So, what can we do about this? Choose qualified people to fill your positions. Support businesses with great products. Recognize the achievements of minorities for their own sake, without the caveat of their race. Support minority businesses genuinely, not as an empty gesture in the spirit of reparations. And lastly, support us, Neophyto Foods, not because we're minority-owned but because we make some of the best plant-based products out there!
What’s the status of your business? Did you have to pivot, go online, temporarily close?
Due to COVID-19, we at Neophyto Foods have taken a temporary hiatus from selling to customers. Prior to the pandemic, we were primarily focused on selling to foodservice, but all our customers had to shut down due to the lockdown. During this time, we have spent our efforts working behind the scenes to revamp our branding and marketing to get our plant-based cheese ready for the retail and e-commerce markets! While there have been a few roadblocks along the way, this time has actually allowed us to expedite our transition into the retail market. In addition, while we figure out the kinks of scaling up production, we’re planning on releasing a new product soon – a DIY vegan meat kit!
Click here to join the wait list.
What’s been the hardest part of this pandemic for you?
For my business, the most obvious difficulty of the pandemic has been the loss of revenue. For me personally, it’s been difficult to deal with the social isolation. I live alone with only my cat for company, and the lack of regular human contact has been tough. Thankfully, we live in the age of the internet, so I’ve been coping with regular video calls with friends and family.
What can we as a community do for you?
The best way to support the community is to continue supporting local small businesses. This is a difficult time for everyone, and many businesses are trying to figure out how to pivot and survive during this new time. Be patient as your favourite business figures things out but once they do, try to give the all the support you can!
What advice would you give women?
Believe in yourself. This may be cliché, but I think it’s important. As you go through life, there are going to be many people who will tell you that you can’t do it, that you’re not good enough, but you can and you are. Believe in yourself because the mind is powerful, because you are strong, and because your opinion of yourself is what matters the most.
What is your greatest hope right now?
My greatest hope is that we can all come out of this pandemic stronger than before. I don’t think the world is ever going to go back to exactly how it was before COVID-19 hit, but I hope that we can adapt to the new normal and make it better than what could have been.
What are the 3 things keeping you sane?
1. My cat
2. Video calling
What's your favorite plant-based recipe?
My go-to microwave mud cake recipe for Netflix parties with my friends is by Julie Wampler of Table For Two.
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar (add an extra one if you like it sweeter)
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon milk (*we recommend vegan mylk)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon hazelnut chocolate spread or mini chocolate chips
- In a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.
- Whisk in the milk and vegetable oil until all ingredients are combined and batter has no clumps.
- Pour batter into a microwave-safe mug. Mine was a 14-ounce mug. You want enough head space for the cake to rise without pouring over.
- Add hazelnut chocolate spread in the middle of the batter or mini chocolate chips. Just drop it in the middle, no need to push it down and sink it in the batter. It does that on its own when it cooks! :)
- Place a paper towel into the microwave and set the mug on top (this is to catch any batter if your mug cake overflows).
- Microwave mug cake for 70 seconds on high
- Carefully remove from microwave and enjoy!
We are committed to representing a much greater diversity of BIPOC women in this series and are now asking every female food founder we feature to spotlight a BIPOC woman from their own network.
I would like to nominate Sentayehu Tessema. She is an Ethiopian Canadian woman who started and runs a small Ethiopian restaurant here in Guelph called The Warka Tree. They have lots of vegan and vegetarian options, and I can personally vouch that their food is super delicious.