**warning sensitive subjects**
If you haven’t seen it and you wish to maybe understand a little more about the pressure of first generation Chinese students (not all, but many) watch it… it’s on Netflix. This is how it impacted me.
I often comment about how I have an over eating problem. I just really, really love food. You know that viral video where the girl cries about loving cats? That’s me – but with food.
I don’t think about it often but when I actually take the time to reflect on where it stems from, it can be perceived as a sad thing. Maybe that’s why I don’t really talk about this aspect often, I don’t want people to ever associate sadness with food.
Rather, I have always persevered to use food to send a message of love and value. Food is what brings people together. It can do what often words fail to do. Communicate emotions, bridge cultures, show love.
What I share now is to hopefully spread some awareness and bring about more respect to the thing many of us take for granted – FOOD.
I am going to share with you the stories, jokes and perceptions of my experiences with food and then where it originated from. Though many of these may be hard to read – remember there’s a lesson behind each experience. Appreciate the value of FOOD.
My extended family used to joke (and still do sometimes) about how when I was a kid I always asked for “White cheese!” Whenever I saw my cousins, my aunts and uncles – before I even greeted them I would say “Can I have some white cheese?”
For years they would bug me. From childhood, into my twenties and like I said sometimes even now. I guess they thought it was really cute. I mean a little girl just learning to form sentences and all I ever ask for is cheese? Priceless!
Where does that come from? Well. My dad would work all day and my biological mother, was supposed to take care of my brother and I. She suffered from extreme postpartum depression and would often leave the house. For hours. All day sometimes. Sometimes my dad would come home and there would be no one there but my brother and I. We were under 2 and 4.
This is the beginning of my resourcefulness. I learned to “hunt” at this age. Being under 2, you can only imagine my vertical limit. Couldn’t reach counters, cupboards, or cabinets. But I could reach the fridge handle and the lower fridge shelves. The shelves that contained the condiments, root vegetables… and Kraft Singles Cheese. The orange cheese.
This is what I ate. Day after day. Plastic cheese after plastic cheese. I remember – with a tightness in my chest writing this now. My father would often come home and ask “What did you eat today? What did your mom feed you?” Even at that age I knew it wasn’t cool to rat my mom out. Also because I knew that my answer would upset him. It got to the point where my dad would just see the sheepish look my face and instant subdued anger would swell in his.
He would then get to work in the kitchen, and though I knew he was angry. I always knew it wasn’t at us. I would be happy that dad was home and food was here. This was my earliest association with the power of food.
I learned that love is making food for someone even when you’re angry.
So, that’s why I always asked for white cheese, because when you eat 10 slices of Kraft Singles cheese a day… you get kind of sick of it.
In elementary school I was always known to be the kid that you could buy company from. Yes, this is where I learned how to “work for food.” In grade 1 and 2 I would offer my recess company in exchange for your cookie, Fruit Roll Up, or Dunkaroos. Kids at that age didn’t care, didn’t think much of it and would either trade or not.
Most people would think “that’s pretty normal kids do that all time, trade snacks, whatever.” True, but the difference is the reasoning behind it. At this point I was still grateful for at least having a lunch.
My new step mom used to pack our lunches but within a week of trying to be a mom she learned if she taught us how to do it ourselves she wouldn’t have to. Which is fine, I’m all about learning things and teaching other people things. It’s important.
It’s only later in life I learned there’s a difference between someone who loves you and teaches you to pack your lunch versus someone who teaches you so they don’t have to do it. I witnessed this in several of my friends that though they packed their own lunches, their moms still would throw in a snack or on the occasion make something special.
My step mom always made sure to buy the cheapest, slimiest ham. We weren’t poor, she just didn’t think we deserved anything better. The god damn Kraft Singles cheese. Throw in an apple and a juice box and this was my lunch for the next 5 years. Sometimes she would buy the nice salami or deli meats, but we were only allowed to eat that when my step siblings were around and if we ate too many slices she would yell at us for days. She counted pieces, inventoried food and would discipline us if we opened anything without asking or even if we asked or took too much.
This is where I learned “how to hoard food,” and “how to always never take the last few pieces.”
It’s funny how I sometimes get so mad at Adam for eating the last piece, but over the years I’ve learned that… when you love someone you don’t care when they take the last piece.
From these years I learned what it felt like to be fed by someone that didn’t love you.
Around grade 3 I discovered my love for cooking. I would spend hours in the library looking for recipe books and try to make what I could at home with what I was allowed to use. I was already cooking instant noodles and Mac and cheese by then so I was ready to advance my skills. This was also the time when I started baking. I recall fondly of moments when my stepsister would teach me how to bake. She wants always the nicest to me but these moments were very special to me because I didn’t feel hated.
This is where I learned that food can bring people closer.
During this time I also progressed from trading play time for snacks to just asking for food. I was getting sick of three years of eating the same plastic cheese and slimy ham for lunch. Kids started to care about associations and image so my offers of being a playmate were no longer effective currency, and trust me… no one wanted to trade lunches with me.
I recall this one friend of mine, she used to always bring hot food for lunch. Soup! One time she gave me a little and then I started asking her every day for more. Eventually it got to the point where she would yell “NO!” And then one day she said “My mom told me you’re a beggar!” I didn’t quite understand what that meant at the time, but I knew it was hateful and hurtful. I think this was the first time I felt shame. I stopped asking her for soup. We stopped being friends.
This is when I learned that food had status. Some people deserved food and others were resented for it.
Growing up in Edmonton, Alberta, I had a lot of friends that were Eastern European. Ukrainian, German, Polish. By grade 4 I had transferred to a new school, closer to home, fancier, in a “good neighbourhood.” Several neighbour kids came along with me, as we all lived in an upper middle class neighbourhood and our community fed into the new school.
One of my oldest friend and first friends ever in life, Frannie, joined me in this exciting new move. From grade 1 to grade 12 we went to school together and lived a block away from each other. She was my new food friend. I discovered one day that she too, was getting sick of her lunches and she would actually THROW HER SANDWICHES AWAY! Imagine that.
This is when I learned the devastating feeling associated with wasting food.
Growing up with immigrant family members, you do NOT waste food. However it wasn’t until these moments where I saw a magical sandwich with wholesome bread, crisp lettuce, pates and German meats, did I fully grasp the meaning of wasting food. (I hope her mom doesn’t read this, I don’t know if she ever knew he daughter threw her sandwiches away). She used to tuck them under her shirt and ask to go to the washroom so the lunch lady wouldn’t report her to her mom.
Shortly after this confrontation, whenever she didn’t want her sandwich, Frannie would give it to me. No wonder she was my best friend. This was also very different from the soup girl. Frannie would often offer me her sandwich, I didn’t even have to ask. She also never made me feel bad or called me names because of it.
This is when I learned the difference between receiving food from a place of goodness versus contempt.
These years were a game changer. By now I wouldn’t even be able to name the last meal my step mother cooked for us. Since grade 6 I had begun to cook entire meals for the family on the weekdays, split with custom Chinese take out from a local restaurant. My dad would usually cook amazing dishes on the weekends and let me help.
Now I had control over what I could pack for lunch. Now, I too, could pick hot meals for lunch! I could pack leftovers! I was also able to walk to the convenience store and use my birthday/ Chinese Lucky Money to buy snacks and junk food, potatoes wedges, chicken fingers, chips, slurpies! All the things that were normal for most kids, was suddenly a damn breaking experience for me. Trust me… I ate ALL the things.
Growing up in a predominantly Caucasian neighbourhood, kids weren’t used to seeing things like… rice. Seriously. Just rice weirded people out.
When I started bringing leftovers, I packed steamed seasoned pork, Chinese veggies, fish, salted black beans and salted meats. All on rice. People used to comment on how my food smelled and would make faces. I didn’t really care though. I mean you would think that it would be traumatizing and humiliating to be judged and discrimines against by your food as a pubescent teen but, due to my experiences with NOT having food… this was easy!
This is when I learned that my relationship food was empowering. I respected it for giving me love and sustenance and in return it gave me confidence.
Pretty much everyone in my life has received some kind of food from me, because food is how I show you I love you. Our family wasn’t really the hugging kind growing up. Mostly because my stepmom thought that unless you were a little child it was inappropriate to hug, hold hands or cuddle with someone of the opposite sex even in your immediate family. So, food and feeding people were how we showed love.
In Junior high I had started to develop a lot of resentment toward presents and gifts. There was a lot of broken promises and negative experiences associated with gifts. My step family attached a lot of sentiment to the dollar value of a gift and if it wasn’t what they wanted a receipt was quickly requested or even a humiliating lecture about being cheap when given handmade things or buying certain things not considered “nice/ fancy.”
So I hated gifts. I hated all feelings and stress and anxiety associated with gift giving and receiving. That’s why when it came time for my 13th birthday my two closest friends gave me a box.
Not just any box… a box filled with food. Canned tuna, KD Mac and Cheese, knorr’s chicken noodle soup, Cadbury mini eggs homemade jerky, all sorts of savoury goodness. It was the best present I have even received. It was the first present I ever cried because of what it was. It was the first gift I ever received that was truly made from love. I still remember everything in that shoe box to this date. Even now on my birthday, Adam takes me somewhere special to eat. No gifts are exchanged, just time spent with people we love, doing what we love- eating.
This is when I learned the true gift of food.
You would never know it but when I younger I was labelled as the pickiest eater in the family. Yup, me. That’s because my family had such advanced palates! Most of my family are foodies. I was called picky because I didn’t like big chunks of onions and raw tomatoes . That’s pretty much it. And I still ate that stuff, I just didn’t like it. Now, however I love them both.
That’s why I don’t tend to connect well with people are are traditionally picky eaters (not the Melba version of picky.) My dad was always like “you don’t want it fine more for me.” And I would watch him eat these big red tomatoes with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and it would drive me nuts to not be able to enjoy it the way he did.
That’s why I would keep eating it. I saw how much joy and delicious pleasure people got from eating certain things, that I would try and try and try it until I liked it.
Did you know it takes 6-11 attempts to acquire a taste? (At different times in your like not like 6-11 bites all in one night.)
It’s because our bodies and hormones and outlook changes. Therefore our tastes change. Nothing bothers me more than people who refuse to try things, and people who refuse to try things again because it take MORE than one or two or five goes! It also tells me that those same people give up in many aspects of their life very easily.
Which is also something that I don’t gravitate towards or find attractive. It’s different if you’re allergic or you had a traumatic experience, I get that, but to refuse food? Especially with my background of nearly starving as a child I can’t empathize with picky eaters. I also do not take kindly to people who mock food or call food disgusting or make rude comments on how food looks.
Respect your food, respect those they give you food and give thanks to your food.
This concludes Part 1 of my stories regarding how my life is affects by food and why I am the way I am due to the experiences surrounding food. Please check back on Part 2, which hopefully I will post shortly. I didn’t intend this to be so long but apparently … I have a complicated relationship with food!
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