For some, “what is the meaning of life?” may be the hardest question to answer, but for me, for as long as I can remember, it has been, “what’s your favorite food?” When I was younger, my immediate response would be, “Korean food.” The following question would ensue: “What kind of Korean food?” Young Ashley would reply “miyeok-guk!” with gusto. Upon further questioning, I would have to explain that miyeok-guk is Korean seaweed soup. Miyeok-guk has always held a special place in my heart, as my mom would make it for my birthdays, just as many Koreans traditionally do. Yet, I felt ashamed of my answer after seeing the other person’s slight look of disgust. Seaweed soup does not sound appetizing, especially compared to your typical American favorites: pizza, pasta or burgers. This self-consciousness pushed me to hide my love for food.
Food has always been an important part of my life. It connects me to everything I love.
Food connects me to my emotions. When I am sad, I turn to food. When I am happy, I turn to food. I associate different foods with different memories, and I associate different memories with different foods. I despise the taste and texture of dry scrambled eggs because I associate them with early mornings and disappointing losses at fencing tournaments. Similarly, soondubu, Korean soft tofu stew, will always cheer me up. For me, eating is not only a physical action, but an emotional experience.
Food also allows me to bond with people, something I have always struggled with due to my timid nature. The first time I talked to my best friend, we had a discussion about how we both really liked jjajangmyun, a Korean-Chinese noodle dish. Though my family is busy, we are fortunate to sit down to dinner together almost everyday. While we eat, we are able to take a short break from our lives and enjoy a meal with loved ones. Similarly, whenever I meet with friends, food is always somehow involved. Whether it is meeting at Corner 17 for noodles and boba, baking (and ultimately failing to make) a cake or even watching food videos together, food brings us together in a way that nothing else could do.
Food has also helped me feel more confident and less ashamed of myself. I love that Korean food is one of the closest connections I have to my Korean roots, but it wasn’t always that way.
I attended elementary school where the student body was predominantly white, and I was self-conscious of how my looks and the food I ate were different. Unless specifically asked, I never told anyone about the Korean food I enjoyed, out of fear that I would be outcast as a weirdo. For a long time, I held a mentality that I had to hide elements of my culture so that I would fit in. In middle school, when my mom would pack kimbap, Korean “sushi” rolls, I would pretend to look confident while eating, but really, on the inside, I was terrified that someone would judge me for my food choice.
Thankfully, my embarrassment over food went away after my middle school phase. I began to realize that food is something that everyone has in common. Food is nothing to be ashamed of. Eating is a function that is necessary to live, so why not embrace it? Now, I am the proud owner of a food account on Instagram and am known to be a “foodie” among my friends. I am able to bring Korean food to lunch and eat it without caring about other people’s opinion. Celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis captured my feelings, saying, “Food brings people together on many different levels. It’s nourishment of the soul and body; it’s truly love.