Peter Kavinsky isn’t the only snack in Netflix’s hit romcom To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. One of the most heart-melting moments in the film is—*spoiler alert*—when Peter (Noah Centineo) drives to a Korean grocery store to buy Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) Yakult, a probiotic yogurt drink that’s a common treat in lots of Asian countries. But it was the earlier scene, when Lara Jean’s little sister Kitty (Anna Cathcart) initially shares the probiotic drink with Peter, that stuck with me.
When I read this scene in the original YA book, my heart skipped a beat. I reread the passage, thrilled that author Jenny Han had included this specific detail. Growing up, Yakult was my go-to shareable Asian snack, one that—unlike dried seaweed or red bean pastries—wouldn’t weird out my non-Asian friends, so I wasn’t surprised when Peter discovered he liked it. And it turns out, fans of the film are following his lead.
— Jenny Han can't come to the phone right now (@jennyhan) September 3, 2018
A few weeks after the film’s August 17 release, Bloomberg reported that the Japanese probiotic brand stocks saw a surge in sales. Twitter users also noted that the drink was selling out in stores. Usually, the popularization of Asian food staples, such as bone broth or kimchi, comes off as exploitative or sensational, portraying these traditional eats as revolutionary discoveries. However, the idea that wider North American audiences might appreciate Yakult the same way Peter did in the film felt different.
Yakult Shortage never happened in an Asian Country before, as far as I know. But today, my fave dairy drink is sold out in two stores. I blame you Peter K! 😂✌ #ToAllTheBoysIveLovedBefore @Netflix_PH @NetflixAsia @netflix pic.twitter.com/sGLvTEWS7D
— Alyssa (@ItsMariaAlyssa) August 22, 2018
This time, the interest in Yakult stemmed from an authentic scene written from the mind—and lived experience—of an Asian American author. It wasn’t a monumental scene, but rather just a part of a larger story where Asian American sisters shared an ordinary aspect of their lives with a non-Asian boy. Watching Peter enjoy the beverage felt like cultural appreciation. The scene frames Yakult as cool and desirable because of how it is shared between these characters, which is basically how the average Coca Cola ad functions. Peter doesn’t treat Yakult like a strange foreign food, he just drinks it—and that is something I’ve rarely seen on-screen—or off, for that matter.
That’s part of the reason that what Reel Inequality author Nancy Yuen termed the “summer of Asians” (because of Crazy Rich Asians topping the box office, and the release of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Searching, starring John Cho) was so exciting. It’s the difference between exoticizing Asian narratives versus giving us space to tell stories from our own perspectives.
I love that my feed is filled w/forthcoming films w/AsAm leads. But will we look back & say, “Remember the summer of Asians?” Let’s make sure we pack out theaters & watch on Netflix to get year-round representation! #SearchingMovie #ToAllTheBoysIveLovedBefore #CrazyRichAsians pic.twitter.com/MkmBbQeyCR
— Nancy Wang Yuen (@nancywyuen) July 26, 2018
Growing up as a Chinese Canadian, I remember kids turning up their noses at my Asian food in the school lunch room, only to later grow up and consider it the hip “new” restaurant item. Two years ago, for example, Bon Appetit drew serious heat when it called pho one of the “coolest restaurant trends.” The article and video, which has since been taken down, were swiftly called out for having a non-Vietnamese chef tell readers “how you should be eating pho,” and for classifying this staple Vietnamese dish as a “trend.”
Seeing that, I realized the food magazine didn’t consider Asian Americans as part of its audience, because none of this was new or “trendy” to us. This is the type of representation that feels like appropriation—when an outlet frames something as a new concept, with complete disregard to the people who have eaten and developed those foods for years. Even though, yes, there were recently some articles calling Yakult a “new sensation,” these stories didn’t cause Yakult’s stock to boom. They were responses to authentic representation of a regular Asian American experience.
That’s why movies like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before are so powerful. Yes, the main character is a person of colour—Lara Jean’s race isn’t presented as a barrier or struggle; while Peter doesn’t bring it up, he also doesn’t ignore Lara Jean’s Korean heritage. Instead, he just accepts her, and the Yakult that she offers, with an open mind and open heart.
The Yakult scene and the rise in sales after, is a promising indicator of a future where Asian Canadian kids can actually feel proud of their Asian heritage, embrace their hyphenate identities and share cultural aspects, such as foods, with non-Asian friends. Whether Yakult’s stock boomed because grown up Asian kids were nostalgic or because the movie brought Yakult to new audiences, I’ll take it. It’s a good thing.
And for the record, I’d share my Yakult with Peter Kavinsky any day.