It sounds a bit obnoxious, but one of my favorite parts about living in India was eating food. Before traveling out of Delhi for the weekend, I would search up on the traditional foods of the area and rifle through google reviews and Zomato for the highest-rated places to eat. Travelling and food had always come hand in hand for me, as I believe that a large part of experiencing culture is based around eating. From the traditional Tibetan thukpa noodles in Dharamsala, and the Rajasthani thali in Jaipur, to the traditional appam and fish curry in Kerala, and the multitude of regional cuisines available in Delhi, I was lucky enough to try a variety of cuisines. Coworkers saw my enthusiasm for food and often shared the lunch they brought from home, made by themselves or members of their family – some of this home food was the best food I ate.
However, aside from the actual food I ate, I also reflected on the way I ate and my overall relationship with food, and how it has been shaped by my cultural background, upbringing, and position as a Korean American woman in a post-colonial world. Like many people, especially women, I consider my relationship with food complex, because food affects how I look at my body. From a young age, I grappled between my love for the taste of food and desire to lose weight, but I found it hard to explain this to some older Korean people, who lived through difficult times of starvation and war; unlike me, they did not have the choice of refusing to eat – it was a matter of survival. I questioned why women of color, myself included, strive towards an ideal of thinness influenced both by Eurocentric beauty standards and notions of femininity.
During my time in India, since the way that I ate changed, I was able to associate eating food less with maintaining beauty ideals, but rather more with a sense of camaraderie. At Penn, I often eat meals alone and on the run, and my friends’ busy schedules sometimes make it hard to find to sit down together and have a meal. Living in Delhi, it was refreshing to eat breakfast with my Airbnb host, lunch with coworkers, and dinner with friends who were eager to take me to their favorite places around Delhi. It sounds cheesy, but I was reminded of the ability of food to bring people together. Sometimes it takes experiencing something to realize how much I yearn for it.
Overall, this summer I thought more about what and how we eat, the societal significance of food, and the differences between various cultures. I’m not sure as to exactly how this experience will impact my dietary habits once I’m thrust back into Penn, but I know I will approach eating and food with a more optimistic attitude than before.