If you like food, you might want to listen to recent UBC grads Lillian Yang and Fakhri Shafai.
A lot of people already are. Their Food Non-Fiction podcast hit the top of iTunes New & Noteworthy’s food and arts section on April 18 and recently beat podcasts by both
Jamie Oliver and Martha Stewart. Neuroscience graduates Yang, 27, and her co-host Shafai, 33, started their podcast last month. When Yang heard they reached top numbers, she realized people beyond her friends and family were listening.
“It was just really validating when we were hitting the top of all these different charts,” she said. “Knowing that the content is stuff that people are talking about.”
Food Non-Fiction, which has just four shows aired so far, goes into detail about the history, current issues, and fun facts about food that people might not have heard of before. The first two episodes were about edible insects, their third about the Michelin guide, and their most recent explored Benjamin Franklin’s vegetarianism. Yang said they try to “weave it all into a story that flows.”
One of their upcoming episodes looks behind the scenes at dark restaurants — where diners eat in pitch black conditions.
“You wonder what the food even looks like,” Yang mused. “Do they bother with presentation?”
Most of the topics are born out of curiosity — questions that might pop up when chatting with friends but with answers hard to find online. Yang said one idea was inspired by her dog while recording the Benjamin Franklin episode.
“My dog woke up from his nap and started eating, and we couldn’t have [the sound] in the recording. So we waited — we sat and watched him and laughed. And I was like, oh, we need to do one on pet food as well.”
Yang and Shafai, who took a class together at UBC, started Food Non-Fiction from scratch and produce it completely on their own, even though Yang works full-time as a web-marketer and Shafai is a full-time PhD student. Managing time is their biggest challenge, said Yang.
Yang, whose background includes some journalism, decided to produce a podcast in part because she had uncertainty about life after finishing her master’s degree — plus, she believed she could do it. After Shafai helped Yang through a difficult time, Yang thought that along with her organizational skills Shafai would make a good co-host. It’s worked out well, said Yang, and Shafai’s voice is “radio perfect.”
The podcast focuses on food because of Yang’s general interest in the topic. And she loves eating.
“In high school, I was always the girl who challenged all the boys to eating contests — I’ll eat anything,” she said.
Yang and Shafai do extensive research on each topic before interviewing their guests, and Yang said their educational background helps them ask hard-hitting, in-depth questions. “We trust our referencing skills,” she said.
Food Non-Fiction airs every Thursday, but Yang said they’re hoping to move it to Tuesdays, because it would mean less competition and downloaders could get it earlier in the week.
Eventually they hope to hit the top eight per cent of podcasts, said Yang, where 5,000 downloads per episode per month can get podcasters sponsored. She said though it might be several years down the road, she wants to do it full-time.
“My dream would be do it for a living,” said Yang. “That would be awesome if I could spend my days researching and not have to worry about anything else.”