“The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” It’s a phrase commonly known today. But I never realized how significant food was to my heart – a woman’s heart – until last year.
“Did you eat yet?” – I grew up hearing this greeting from almost every Chinese adult I met. The tradition came from surviving difficult periods of poverty in China, when food of any kind was scarce. It became a habit of asking each other if someone has eaten yet as a phrase of endearment. You asked in the past, hoping your friend has eaten already, and if they haven’t, you offer what you can. Today, it’s just a greeting, but signifies how you care about the person. There’s a popular t-shirt I once saw that said, “‘Did you eat’ means ‘I love you.’”
Arriving at college, dorm food wasn’t bad necessarily, but it certainly wasn’t a good home cooked meal. Growing up in a Cantonese household meant almost always food that was cooked – rarely cereal, muffins, sandwiches, any of that sort. Most of the Cantonese steam their food, which is far healthier than frying or grilling. So having a salad for dinner was actually really new for me in college, strange as that might seem. I had no qualms with the dorm food, and in fact for a while being able to eat “American” food all the time was fun. That being said, I started sincerely missing the food I grew up with. Much to my delight, some generous family friends who live in the same city as I now do offered to cook and deliver food to me now and again. It was heavenly! Eating pork chops, rice, actually seasoned vegetables!
But not everyone shared my opinion. Soon my roommates began commenting on how my room smelled “fishy” because of the home cooked food. I would offer to share, but no one took me up on it. I felt embarrassed and somehow shamed by the “weird” food I loved. I felt even more stung by the fact that I wasn’t consuming chicken feet or other “bizarre” selections of Chinese cuisine. This was just steamed and seasoned food that my peers weren’t used to, and thus, it was “weird” and it “smelled.” If I were Italian and had lasagna and spaghetti delivered to me, I wouldn’t get such responses.
Why is food so important? What we eat makes us who we are, in my opinion. It’s the decision to put something into our bodies, for nourishment or for pleasure. It’s a health and lifestyle choice. Our tastes define us: who we were, who we are, and who we’re going to be. By the “who we were,” I refer to how our eating habits are, for the most part, built by what we consumed growing up. “Who we are” and “who we’re going to be” is contingent on our willingness to step out of our comfort zones. You never really know if you like or dislike something until you try it. Maybe you’ll even fall in love with something new.
The way to my heart is through my food. I didn’t realize it until college, but food represents my culture and who I am. One of the reasons I fell for my current boyfriend was his response to my food and to the foods I love. I once asked if he thought the food Chinese people eat is strange, and his response was that Westerners have come up with way more gross foods. It’s strange, but his consumption of the food I love and grew up with makes me feel accepted. After all, food is such a vital part of human life and Chinese culture. So I often ask him, “Did you eat yet?”