During her residency, the NYT food writer visited students to talk story about the craft of writing, the history of food and her time at Punahou. She was also the featured speaker at an evening event – “Sense of Plate” – open to the community at large.
This initiative is supported by the Wing Tek Lum ’64 Endowed Fund for the Hawai‘i Writer-in-Residence Program at Punahou School.

New York Times Food Journalist Ligaya Rogers ’88 Mishan is Punahou’s 2024 Hawai‘i Writer-in-Residence

In early January, Punahou welcomed New York Times food writer Ligaya Rogers ’88 Mishan, to its 2024 Writer-in-Residence Program, now in its second consecutive year. Mishan – who is renowned for exploring nuanced topics around culture, climate change and labor rights through culinary narratives – is a James Beard award recipient and has had her work featured in the acclaimed literary compilation “The Best American Food Writing.”  

Swapping Central Park for jogs in Niu Valley, Mishan revisited her alma mater, where her passion for writing was first sparked. During her five-day residency, Mishan shared her insights with students in grades 6 – 12, recounting her remarkable journey from creating a newspaper with Lara Cowell ’88 in third grade to becoming an award-winning food writer. 

Starting as a proofreader at The New Yorker led to her writing a restaurant review column for the magazine, which later paved the way to her role as a freelancer for The New York Times. She reflected on growing up on “mac and cheese laced with crispy spam” then being thrust into the New York culinary scene, where “suddenly the things that were once ordinary took on a new light,” and how the seemingly “not serious” topic of personal food narratives could lead to broader stories. 

Delving into deeper topics through food writing has been Mishan’s hallmark. “When I thought I’d run out of words to describe food – sweet, salty, crunchy on the outside, creamy on the inside – one of my editors said, ‘Stop writing about the food.’ He meant, ‘Write about the story behind the food instead.’” Since then, Mishan has explored profound topics around food, challenging readers to think beyond the plate that’s in front of them at the table, inspired in part through a collaborative relationship with Hanya Yanagihara ’92, editor-in-chief of T: The New York Times Style Magazine. “Society has an obsession with food. It’s been elevated to a kind of totem,” Mishan says. “But what’s not visible in an Instagram photo is where the food came from, issues of climate change, labor, etc.” Through her work, she aims to shed light on the hidden implications of our culinary choices. In that way, “when you’re writing about food, you’re really writing about the world,” she said.

Mishan also spoke about her 2021 book, “Filipinx: Heritage Recipes from the Diaspora,” which brought her closer to her heritage and showcased the narratives of Filipino women in the arts, and her coverage of Hawai‘i’s culinary scene, both of which address cultural sensitivity. She reflected on striking a balance between showcasing traditional dishes, such as poke, for a national audience without exoticizing them. “It’s a balancing act between being generous in an explanation of a traditional dish, yet not overly ornate or exotic, because for a lot of people, it’s a part of their culture and not foreign.” Two out of the 23 culinary delights listed in the New York Times’ “Best American Dishes of 2023” are from Hawai‘i chefs, Mishan highlighted.

Mishan especially inspired students with her reflections on the writing process, encouraging authentic, thoughtful writing that’s infused with one’s own personality, something digital tools such as ChatGPT cannot replicate. She admitted to being a slow writer and that the writing process is messy for all, even professionals, because “you have all these ideas, but when you start writing, it’s not the magic in your head.” One tip for writers – read your work out loud: “It should be exciting to read, not boring.”

Beyond the classroom, Mishan met with faculty and other community members – and was the featured speaker at a well-attended evening event. The “Sense of Plate,” hosted at the Chapel, showcased Mishan and Mark “Gooch” Noguchi ’93, who is Punahou’s food curriculum specialist. The duo highlighted their mutual admiration for food’s impact on society – and reflected on the power of food to bring people together. They also emphasized the positive impact that mindful consumption can have on global climate and social change.

Punahou’s inaugural Hawai‘i Writer-in-Residence Program launched in 2023, when Maui-born journalist and playwright, Lee Cataluna, visited the School to share insights into her craft. During her weeklong residency, Cataluna visited classes across campus, met with faculty and staff, and participated in special events for the campus community and the public. 

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