so, this weekend. this week-and-a-half. oh, dear lord.
i’ve been spending ridiculous amounts of time these last few days consuming news and struggling with not sinking into total despair and trying to find ways i can fight back — or, at least, contribute a voice to things.
i admit that it’s been easy to slide into despair and hopelessness, though, and i’ve been tempted simply to unplug from everything and curl up in a cave and block out the world, especially because none of this is helping with the ongoing downward trajectory of my mental state. every day is a constant struggle to stay afloat personally, unrelated to politics and the goings-on of the world, and it doesn’t help that i’m also pretty much completely isolated in california because i’m currently staying at my parents’, don’t have a car, am still financially unstable, and have no close friends in the area.
it’s no surprise, then, that i’ve been using technology as my support — text messages, kakao talk, twitter, instagram, this space — and, when david chang started using the hashtag “immigrantfood” over the weekend, it stuck with me.
as someone who loves food and spends most of her time thinking about it, i’ve come to embrace the hashtag fully. however, while i start aggressively using it, i wanted to lay out clearly what the hashtag means for me and what i want to convey through its use. i mentioned this briefly on instagram but thought i would also expand on it here, put it down on record.
the hashtag means two things specifically:
ONE. diversity does not only make this country great; it also makes it delicious. food is one of the great gifts immigrants and refugees bring to this country because food isn’t simply sustenance or something to eat — it’s a means through which to get to know people, to understand where they come from, to realize that they are not the Other.
i will never downplay or underestimate the significance of the 밥상 (bahp-sang, food table).
TWO. you do not get to take our food but reject us, our bodies/selves, our histories, our cultures. food comes hand-in-hand with culture because it is informed by culture and, in turn, informs culture, not only what we eat, but how we eat, with whom, in what ways. additionally, food is shaped by history, by wars, by scarcity and suffering and survival, just like it is shaped by wealth and privilege and abundance, and food is created by bodies, from the bodies that sow the fields and raise the animals to the bodies that take these products and cook them and offer the meals that we eat, whether at home, our own and others’, or in restaurants and eateries around the country.
food does not exist in a vacuum, and it does not come from nothing, and it cannot be detached from its origins. further, before you think that i’m making too much out of something so basic, think about this: food is also political. it is social.
it is used as a means of power when it is withheld and/or used as bribes or incentives, a means through which those in power control those below them. it is used to discriminate against people, to make Others of them, by saying that there is one way to eat, one way that is superior to others — “ethnic” (aka non-white) food is often looked down upon as smelly and uncultivated because it is different, served differently, consumed differently, and those who eat it are, consequently, seen as dirty, unrefined, less-than-human.
it is easily appropriated when people (usually white) go storming into spaces that are not theirs, marveling at the “exotic” things of other worlds and latching onto the food, all while exercising zero respect and awareness of the world and people around them.
and this is what i mean when i use this hashtag — that food is not just food, that it can be as much a tool or weapon as it is identity, sustenance, and love. that food comes attached to people, to culture, to history, and, as such, it should be respected. that you cannot go barging into another culture without any sensitivity and simply take and take and take, that that time of colonialism and imperialism has (or should have) passed, that that mentality and attitude are unacceptable and despicable.
that food is one of the myriad amazing things that immigrants and refugees bring to this country, that this country and its food would not be what they are today without these contributions, and, as such, you cannot simply take our food and reject us.
i know; i eat a lot of asian food (and tacos); but “asian food,” in itself, is a giant umbrella that covers a whole lot of different food from different countries and cultures and peoples. one of my goals for the year is to get out of my comfort zone, to eat more from other countries and cuisines, to extend my palate and, in connection, my understanding of places and people i know little of now.
another goal is to learn more about korean food and to share more about it. there is a book i’m dying to write about korea and its culture and food and society — it’s been percolating in my brain for a few years now, but it’s really solidified as a concept in the past few months. i know how it would look visually and aesthetically; i know the stories i’d want to tell; and i know how i’d lay it out and organize it.
at present, though, that is the extent of where i can take my korea food book, especially as one of my biggest questions these days is whether or not i will be able to write again in the ways i was once able, and, so, this is also a small way of seeing if there is any possibility for hope — hope that i will be whole again, that i will find my way home again, that i will survive this, all of this, and write again.