Fried Rice and the Fear of Being Different

When Annette and I considered the inclusion of food posts in the blog that never was, we went back and forth for awhile, unsure if it was something we wanted to embark upon. We had a few concerns, namely that bloggers are in abundance and there are already a plethora of extremely talented food writers out there, all with more experience and knowledge than my sister and I combined, providing something for everyone. The big question of what we could contribute loomed over the development of our food section. Furthermore, not only did we both lack any proper education in food and nutrition but we also grew up as second generation non-cooks.

When we lived at home most of our meals were home prepared by our mom. While my grandmother was an excellent cook and I think my mom demonstrated some natural ability, she never had the opportunity to sit down and learn, which is why her talent went undeveloped. As such, growing up in our household meals included tried and true family favourites sprinkled in with a few of mom’s “new inventions”, which were always a toss up. None of mom’s dishes ever came with recipes so if something was good, there was no guarantee it could ever be reproduced and if it wasn’t great, well, there was a good chance it would show up again at the table. Mom couldn’t recall what exactly she had included and in what quantities, or even at what point of cooking. My parents were always conscious of minimizing food waste, and we ate whatever was put in front of us; with few exceptions, if you didn’t like the way something tasted for the most part you still ate it. By the time we moved away, my sister and I had developed some basic cooking skills but neither one of us were especially talented (our brother possesses quite a bit of skill, and my husband is the designated cook of our household). I’m not incompetent- I can follow recipes – but my technique is a bit sloppy and dreaming up new flavour combinations doesn’t come naturally or easily. Similarly Annette can master a few favourites but she’s much more of a baker than a cook.

With that being said, my entire family LOVES eating and I think that stems from the fact that meal times were always enjoyed. Dinner in particular was usually a sit-down meal where we would unpack the events of the day, lasting about an hour every evening. Some days it would only be a few of us, other days it would include the whole family and any friends that stopped by. Whatever the number of guests, dinner was something to be shared around the table in a leisurely way. As Annette and I discussed these memories, we figured that our experiences with food and eating were exactly why we wanted to start writing about this topic. We want to write because we want people to have fun with their food, to be inventive, and to have a healthy relationship with eating.

The art of eating and enjoying one another's company is something we've mastered, with or without the lobster bib.
The art of eating and enjoying one another’s company is something we’ve mastered, with or without the lobster bib.

Personally for me, encouraging people to nurture, develop, and maintain healthy relationships with food and eating is a priority, which is why I take each of these food posts seriously. I want to be kind and respectful to all the different choices out there while finding a way to discuss foods we should eat as well as our health.

Annette and I have talked about growing up in the suburbs, and even though we grew up in the same place our experiences were vastly different. For the majority of my elementary school years I was one of maybe a half dozen non-white people in my class, and I knew that I was different. As a child I didn’t understand the beauty of diversity or the privilege of knowing multiple cultures, all I wanted was to fit in and be the same as my friends. I wanted to have blonde curly hair like them. I wanted my grandparents to speak English like theirs did. I wanted to be like them. What I didn’t want was to have to translate things for my grandparents when they came to pick me up school (both my parents worked) or to explain to my friends cultural traditions, and I definitely did not want to eat lunches that were different but I did. While every one else was eating their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (this was before school-wide peanut bans, which might be dating me…I’m old) I was eating fried rice from my thermos; while my friends were eating fruit roll-ups, I was eating Asian pear slices. I didn’t like being different and I understood that I couldn’t change my appearance but I didn’t want to stand out because of my food, so I took matters into my own hands and stopped eating my lunches. It first began with me eating only the fruit and not the warm portion of my lunch (there was always something in a thermos) and progressively I ate less and less until my lunches went untouched. I would throw away the food when lunch room supervisors weren’t looking or hide things in my backpack so that I could dispose of it when I got home. I was ashamed of being different. But skipping meals catches up with you, especially when you’re a developing child and you need to be eating. I would get severe and crippling hunger pangs that aggravated pre-existing tummy issues and after school I would be ravenous, devouring my after school snacks with such an unlikely fervour, so much so that my family noticed quite quickly. At this point, I guess I should mention that all of this happened in the first grade, when I was about six or seven, so I was quite young. Fortunately due to attentive parenting from my parents and grandparents, it didn’t last long but I still remember what I felt when my parents found out and mostly, it was sadness.

Suddenly the foods that once brought me so much joy and satisfaction became a point of embarrassment.
Suddenly the foods that once brought me so much joy and satisfaction became a point of embarrassment.

When my mom found out about me skipping lunch, we had a few talks but there wasn’t much to be said. I think my mom immediately recognized my reasoning, however skewed. I began to see the things I once coveted from other people turn up in my lunch box. Gone were the thermoses of rice and stews, Asian fruit slices and cookies, all to be replaced by sandwiches, Lunchables, and commercial fruit snacks (the last of which is absolute JUNK). I was initially happy because I figured this would make me feel more like all my friends but it didn’t. In fact, I still felt different and now the foods I found to be enjoyable, delicious, and familiar were gone. The reality was that I LOVED the Chinese food that once formed the cornerstone of my lunches. I loved the way they tasted and I loved what they reminded me of: big family meals, the people I loved, and comfort. In hindsight, they were also significantly more nutritious. In time I began to reincorporate Chinese food into my school lunches again, and sometimes I would go to my grandparents’ home for the lunch hour to enjoy hot meals. It took a bit of personal confidence building, and over the years with changing demographics and more diversity, I learned to accept and love the fact that I wasn’t the same. As an adult, I’ve heard this story repeated many times in different manifestations but in place of fried rice it’s another type of food. While I’m not going to pretend that I overcame any type of adversity – this was entirely a self-manufactured problem and a product of my own insecurity –  I do carry the understanding of not wanting to be different, or not wanting to justify the foods you love.

All of this in my long winded rationale for why I will never be that person to criticize you for what you eat. I understand that food nourishes our body and our spirit, and eating is something that is ritualistic that can be associated with issues of great importance. Ultimately, we eat the foods we do because we enjoy them, and I want to create a space that feels safe for everyone regardless of your dietary choices, which is why my priority will always be RESPECTING people’s decisions. The only thing I will do is encourage you to make decisions that lead to health and happiness, and if you disagree with my position, please feel free to tell me. While we might not see eye to eye, I want to have conversations and let you know that you are heard. Mostly, I want you to be happy and healthy, and whatever I can do to help get you there is my pleasure.

P.S. Sorry for the detour but next week we will get to some proper food postings!

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