Often a commonality in college is the infinitely changing relationship that students have with food. Whether that’s through the “freshman 15”, your favorite dish from your grandma, or the carefully planned out meal prep calendar, it’s safe to say that food is very important to us.
Food is a necessity to staying alive, which means that regardless of how busy our lives are, eating will stay a constant. Food is relatable on multiple levels, and allows intersectionality. Whether that’s through nostalgia for home, like it is for people who move away from home, or through enjoyment of shared tastes, it’s hard to deny the significant impact that they have on our lives.
So then, how do we define our relationship with food? An easy place to start, is to consider the memory association we have with the word. One of my first memories from my early time in life are from when I was around four-years-old. I remember very distinctly, eating slightly burnt, crispy and oily eggs, and I remember feeling the disgust rise up and holding down my nausea. Consequently, I also remember the first time I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and thinking about how I had always dreamed of trying one.
My family life was centered around food, the same way some families are centered around sports. Rather than spending money on material items, my parents leaned towards richer (and also more delicious) food, opting to spend money on sushi rather than new clothes. I grew up tasting flavorful foods from all over. My mother liked cooking Chinese and we would often go to different Asian cuisine restaurants, my dad’s favorite being Korean. We also regularly had American food with an Asian twist. Sometimes my mother would substitute American ingredients in favor of Chinese vegetables and meats, often making a completely different variation that tasted great, if not better. Other times, she would decide it would be easier to go out to a restaurant to eat. Soon more expensive restaurants, and consequently usually my favorite restaurants, became associated with special occasions.
Food was the primary self-made connection between my parents and I. They grew up in the East with different traditions and cultures. I grew up out of the house in the West, and in the East through my family life; I had a foot in both cultures. Finding my identity was difficult, but food was easy, and it became the tiny connection I had with my family as I entered my middle school years
My family soon stopped spending too much time in the house together. My dad had to travel for work and we would only see him every other weekend. My mom worked full time and was constantly stressed with the responsibility of bussing us to our extra-curricular activities. She liked us being involved as it helped build our resumes, despite the fact I hadn’t even entered middle school yet. As the oldest, I was in charge of taking care of my two little sisters with one in preschool, and the other in her first two years of elementary school. In just under a year, I was delegated with making sure we were home on time, texting mom as soon as we entered the house and cooking food.
For the first time in my life, my mom was barely cooking. Most of my meals consisted of what could be microwaved or eaten directly out of the fridge. Each day, the nature of meals turned towards a more practical approach directed towards feeding as efficiently as possible. For my mom, the important thing wasn’t how good or delicious the food was, but that we were eating.
On the weekends when my dad came back, I would always end up always arguing with him. This happened every time and tempers would rise but, when we would go out to eat, the tension would automatically ease, and we would enjoy our food miraculously. In a way, food saved my relationship with my parents because it was the only thing we would agree on. It was the only instance where there were no arguments because our family culture and relationship encompassed food.
This brings us back to the original question of how does all of this help us categorize our relationship with food? Is my relationship with food one of nostalgia? Or maybe one of practicality and convenience? We aim to categorize relationships like these into phrases and sentences like “food is bae”, or “carbs are evil”, or “food makes me feel better”, where we simplify our feelings into these words but, I know that, for many, food means more. Food by itself has limitless possibilities, as do peoples’ experiences with it.
So for me, there is no definition for how I feel about food. My relationship with food represents the relationship I have with my parents. It represents the ability of everyday habits and items to connect people together. It reminds me of my heritage, and it reminds me of how thankful I am to have food and to be able to choose what foods I want to eat. In a way, food can represent different parts of our lives too, and it’s a reminder that we shouldn’t be quick to close ourselves off to the boundless possibilities of experiences that define us, because after all, only you can determine how you feel about your favorite dish.