Nadia Lim on why she had to speak out against ‘Eurasian fluff’, cleavage criticism

Celebrity chef Nadia Lim counters “Eurasian fluff” claims and tells Kim Knight that leaders should use their influence to celebrate diversity and inclusion.

Some people who climb up the ladder will push other people down, says Nadia Lim, celebrity chef, entrepreneur and farmer.

The My Food Bag co-founder is the reluctant centre of a media storm highlighting misogyny and prejudice directed at New Zealand businesswomen.

Lim says she wanted to stay out of the debate but, on Wednesday night, found herself sitting opposite a young flight attendant on a trip from Christchurch to Queenstown.

“I smiled at her and she smiled back at me and I actually felt a little bit emotional. She was a young woman of Asian descent, like myself . . . and I thought: How do you feel when you hear things like that? Or read things like that?”

Things like: “When you’ve got Nadia Lim, when you’ve got a little bit of Eurasian fluff in the middle of your prospectus with a blouse unbuttoned showing some cleavage, and that’s what it takes to sell your scrip, then you know you’re in trouble . . . “

That’s a reported quote from Simon Henry, founder and CEO of chemicals company, DGL Group.

Published in the NBR, the comments were apparently prompted by a photograph of Lim barbecuing a chicken while wearing jeans and a summer top. The image ran in a prospectus for My Food Bag, the meal kit delivery business Lim co-founded in 2013.

In the NBR article, Henry goes on to describe Lim – a degree-qualified dietician who won television cooking competition MasterChef New Zealand – as “a TV celebrity showing off her sensuality”.

Lim initially deferred comment to My Food Bag’s chief executive. Today, she said her flight home to Central Otago helped convince her she had to speak out.

“I just kept thinking about it the whole way. What if it was your daughter? I realised it’s not about me. I’m lucky, I’ve had years of support and opportunities to build up a thick skin and resilience, but there are obviously so many people who aren’t in that position, who are vulnerable, and who would have seen a reflection of themselves in those comments. Those are the people I feel sad and disappointed for. I’m not speaking out for me – it’s for them.”

Lim says derogatory comments have always existed, “often in a very casual and flippant way” and while she usually ignores them, she learned early how damaging they could be.

“The biggest thing I’ve encountered, and I haven’t really spoken out much about it, is with my dad. My Mum is New Zealand European and my Dad was Chinese Malaysian. He used to get a lot of flak, all the time. It wasn’t directed at me, but I was a child and I observed it of course. And he, the same as me, would just brush it off and pretend it didn’t get to him. But I could see the hurt in his eyes. It did. It always did.”

Support for Lim has poured in.

Cecilia Robinson, My Food Bag co-founder says racist and sexist commentary highlights things “aren’t alright” for women in business.

Lim says “if you give someone an inch, they’ll take a mile and if it’s not stamped on, then it does just continue, and the little things add up, don’t they?

“It’s especially important in this situation, because he is a CEO. He is meant to be a leader … he could use his potential and his influence to celebrate diversity and inclusion. It’s a missed opportunity. If he did, he would get so much out of it. I feel sad for him that he hasn’t learned that lesson yet.”

Lim says she wasn’t looking for a personal apology.

“What would make me happy is if he really does internalise it, and think deeply about it, from other people’s perspectives.”

And, she says, if Henry wanted her to explain the potentially damaging effect of his attributed comments on vulnerable people, “I would be more than happy to make him a cup of tea and sit him down and have a korero with him – and I think he’d very quickly discover I’m not a little bit of Euroasian fluff”.

Lim says while “there’s nothing wrong with the term “Eurasian”, context matters.

“He used that word to further undermine what I do and who I am.”

For the record, Lim wore her own regular “summer beach clothes” for the photo shoot and is at a loss to explain Henry’s reaction.

“I didn’t have a blouse that was unbuttoned and I wasn’t showing any cleavage -unfortunately I don’t have those assets!

“Why say that?”

Auckland-born Lim was last week confirmed as a judge on the new season of MasterChef New Zealand, currently filming in Queenstown. Lim and husband Carlos Bagrie moved to Central Otago two years ago and now own a 485ha farm near Arrowtown. She says the shift has allowed her to focus on sustainable and ethical food production and supply – important issues for New Zealand’s future.

“The truth is, I could have rested on my laurels and had a pretty cruisy life. And then we decided to go into farming and take on a massive bank loan and debt and work even harder than what we did before. Why are we doing this? Because I do have a responsibility. If you’ve got a voice, then use it. If you’ve been lucky to have been afforded the privileges you have and the opportunities you have, to have a voice then use it to do something worthwhile.”

Lim says it’s important to never forget “how many amazing people who do have such genuinely good hearts are doing great mahi, uplifting, upholding and really celebrating diversity and inclusion. Hats off to those people, because the effort doesn’t go unnoticed”.

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