Stacey Mei Yan Fong’s dreams are as American as Big Apple Pie.
This Third Culture Kid and current Brooklyn resident’s love language is food, and she is serving up a slice of optimism through her project, 50 Pies 50 States – a love letter to the country she’s decided to call home.
Stacey Mei — 50 Pies 50 States
Before COVID-19 hit, Stacey Mei was six pies away from completing her project, a labor of love capturing the unique qualities of each U.S. state and the pies created in their honor. Charm and humor sprinkle the pie delivery tales to each state, and the anecdotes are as delicious as the pies look.
Fun Fact: Madison, Alabama is the first place I ever got in a girl fight defending the honor of a friend. Don’t worry, I won.
Not wanting to short-change the remaining states, Stacey isn’t making the remaining pies until after the pandemic. This has not stopped her from baking, however. I spoke with her about her journey.
How has COVID-19 changed your plan for 50 Pies/50 States?
“COVID derailed my plans. I took a pause as the last six pies wouldn’t get the same treatment as the other 44, and 65% of [the experience] for me is giving the pie to the person.”
“When I did New York’s [pie], I wanted it to be a grand gesture because it’s the state I live in. I made 150 mini-pies and gave them to businesses that I love. I threw a big party for my friends so that we could all be together and enjoy this thing. COVID put a damper on that but also gave me time to focus on other pies and bake for fun.”
Tell me about your quarantine pies.
“My buddy suggested [I] make pies based on movies, and I started thinking to myself, ‘what are the movies that bring me the most comfort’? I love rom-coms. I watch them over and over again, it never gets old for me. My favorite directors are Nancy Meyers and Nora Ephron, so I’m making pies inspired by them. The one that just came out was for The Holiday, my favorite Christmas movie.”
Do your creations help foster a sense of home?
“How I make my home is I try to make friends with whoever I can. I love listening to people’s history and where they come from. I loved talking to them about the food they ate growing up and what traditions they have.”
“I’m a nester and I feel like it’s because I moved a lot as a kid. Whenever I move in somewhere, I hang pictures immediately, make my bed, put a rug down, and put a plant up.”
Where are you from?
“I was born in Singapore and then moved to Indonesia when I was two. I moved to Hong Kong when I was five and I was there until I went to college in Savannah, Georgia at 18.”
Where is home?
“Is it Singapore where I was born, Hong Kong where I grew up, or is it America now because I’ve lived here for so long as an adult and created my own life here? Is this my home?”
“I’d say I’m from Hong Kong, but I feel I’m the textbook definition of a TCK. I consider so many places home for different reasons. Growing up in Hong Kong, being exposed to so many different cultures, and being able to travel so easily, only made me a better person or more open to things.”
“My dad worked in the hotel business. I grew up meeting creative people like architects, designers, and chefs. Whenever my dad would meet new people he was doing business with, we would go to these dinners. Having a conversation over a nice meal is the best way for you to connect to someone. I connect food with making a home.”
Why did you choose Savannah for college?
“Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997 and I went to English Schools Foundation schools. I wanted to apply to schools in America, and I’d gone to a couple of summer camps to figure out what colleges I wanted to go to.”
“[I decided] I’ll apply to Parsons, I’ll apply to FIT and then I had just heard about the Savannah College of Art and Design from an episode of One Tree Hill, [so] I thought I’d apply there too.”
I had just heard about the Savannah College of Art and Design from an episode of One Tree Hill, [so] I thought I would apply there too.
“I really liked it, [and thought] ‘I’m going to try something completely new. I’m going to go from Hong Kong to Savannah and it’s going to be fine.’ I’m not going to lie, the first three months I thought I made the wrong decision. The time difference is 12 hours, which is excruciating. I couldn’t just call my dad or my friends.”
“This was the time in my life where I could make my own journey, to take things into my own hands. I can put myself in a really uncomfortable situation and maybe I’ll grow from it. In Hong Kong I was in a bubble with my friends, I was in a really comfortable spot. I kind of wanted to struggle a little bit, I wanted to test myself.”
“That was the best decision I ever made in my life. Everyone says you should take more risks, and sometimes it really pays off. I’m a good example of how a really big risk really paid off.”
Was your family surprised by your choice?
“[My] dad has always raised me to be a very independent, free thinking woman so he was surprised, but not that surprised. He knows I like to do things my own way and carve my own path.”
“Dad is Chinese but he grew up in Singapore, went to college in Canada, [and attended] graduate school at Cornell. He’s forward thinking, which you have to be with three headstrong daughters, and always encouraged me to pursue what I loved, which was art. We were raised to believe we could do anything and the only limits we had were those we set for ourselves.”
What are your dreams for the future?
“My pipe dream is to turn my 50 Pies project into a cookbook, to hold something in my hands that has the stories of the people that I give the pies to.”
“I get really excited about the food aspect, but giving the pie to someone I love…that’s the part that means the most to me. There’s nothing more selfless and wonderful than cooking a meal for someone you love, and all I want out of this is for people to love each other.”
“America has welcomed me with open arms. I hope what I’m doing will be my grand gesture to a country that has accepted me and allowed me to call this home.”
Has 2020 changed your view of the U.S.?
“Yes and no. My project has a very sweet and saccharine view of America, and this year has been very tumultuous. It’s hard when you hold something up on a pedestal.”
“This dreamy, romantic view of America, what I find to be so inspiring and wonderful, is that [the people] have looked at everything that is not right and tried to make change, tried to move themselves forward and acknowledge the things that are wrong. What more could you ask from a country but for them to acknowledge something and try and course correct?”
Stacey Mei — Your view is optimistic!
“I feel like you have to be! Yes there are days where I’m ‘doom and gloom’. It’s heavy and it would be [impossible] to only be positive all the time. Still, all I’m filled with is hope because people want to do better.”
“There are always some good things and a silver lining, which I hope that my project gives.”
Stacey Mei Yan Fong is a home baker and founder of 50 pies 50 states. She was born in Singapore, grew up in Indonesia and Hong Kong. Her project 50 Pies 50 states has been featured in Eater and on All Things Considered on NPR. She currently resides in Brooklyn, NY where everything in her home has a tiny dusting of flour on it.