Food, adversity and POC.Mar 23, 2020
An early dialogue about Covid-19 concerned the “dirty” and “weird” foods that Asians eat. For me, this triggered so much past shame about food identity and all the times I pretended to enjoy eating crap so that no one would think of me as strange and dirty. Sometimes I wonder why the West is so obsessed with hating on our food, yet also loves all kinds of Asian foods at the same time? Sometimes I wonder if people call things gross not because they don’t get it, but perhaps because they actually do understand that there’s some kind of benefit that they’re missing out on?
I think this kind of humiliation, shame or rejection around food is important to acknowledge right now if you are an Asian diaspora because often as kids, we rejected our food cultures so that we could fit in with our peers. But now, I would suggest that we acknowledge this pain and reclaim our food cultures because this is the knowledge and evidence of survival that has been passed down through generations of war, famine, natural disasters and past epidemics.
Over the last couple of weeks:
I’ve been thinking about what I could cook if we were to go into lockdown, or if I need to self-quarantine.
Do I need to follow what my grandparents ate during the war? Or do I need to follow the masses and buy canned tomatoes and pasta?
But oh no there’s no pasta left so…
What would I eat if everything shut down for two weeks? These kinds of questions have been driving me around and around in circles over the last couple of weeks.
Sick of the chaos at my local Woolworths, I went to the Japanese supermarket to seek inspiration. As I walked around trying to think about what I would eat and what I could keep, I realised that so many of the dishes that I already know are relatively complete even if I had to take away all the fresh ingredients.
It made me think about old cultures like my own that have passed down their recipes for generations and generations, connecting us all through the same palate and nutrition. So many of the recipes and cooking techniques that I’m familiar with come from a time when there was no (or minimal) refrigeration and/or during times of little abundance and it was reassuring to remember that this is what I know deep down.
Pickling, curing, drying and fermenting. Decades and decades of people before me having tried and tested different techniques so that what I have now is both nutritious and delicious.
As I made my way through the supermarket, I realised that my pantry was already stocked with dry goods that can produce a huge variety of meals. Sometimes the answer is so simple that you doubt it’s validity.
If similarly, you come from a lineage that has survived war, famine, colonisation, occupation, natural disasters and past epidemics, you have a certain wisdom imprinted in your being and these experiences of adversity in our ancestry become the very resources that help us through current adversities. Remember the privilege of having this kind of knowledge and where possible, support others who may not have access to such knowledge or may not come from ancient cultures by sharing ideas and tips that they may find useful.
When the world is being turned upside down, don’t forget that you already know how to cope. Don’t forget that POC have had their worlds turned upside down consistently throughout history (it’s important for me to acknowledge that much of which was caused by Japanese occupation), so we have these inner resources that are readily available to us if and when we choose to connect back.
Connect with our community.
You're not alone in navigating the intersections of race, culture and mental health. Find out more about our Shapes and Sounds Community, designed for and by Asian Australians.