Food and Identity

By Grace Hou, intern at Crossing Borders

Food is undeniably a huge part of my identity, and is a past-time I am engrossed in and fully absorbed by. My earliest memories of my life in Melbourne, Australia, involve food. Being born into a Chinese family, food has always been an important part of life and connects everyone in my community together. I have countless, treasured memories where my family friends and immediate family have congregated in the kitchen, with delicious aromas wafting while we sit and cook, chatting and laughing about life.

Making dumplings is a social past-time, and recipes are not written down but rather passed down from generation to generation, with matriarchs protecting family recipes zealously. Crafting dumplings is an art form, and it is the perfect opportunity for Chinese parents to engage in the cringeworthy act of boasting (and comparing, much to my chagrin) each other’s children. It is a ritual; an age old tradition that unites my community. Through the history of China, there has been scarcity of food and famine – in fact, from 1959-61 there was widespread famine and devastating suffering. So many families perished during this time. Now, as a nation and as a people, we appreciate everything we have and we love to eat. How we enjoy, how we relish each moment ¡

Food is closely linked to my identity. When my mother cooks, I can sense the care and the love she has put into every fibre of preparing the food. In Australia, the concept of what food is acceptable has changed significantly over time. I recall being a young child and having my mum pack candied yams for my lunch, and having the other children tease me. I remember so clearly desperately trying and yearning to fit in, and wishing my mother would make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich so I could be just like the other children. The truth is, it was challenging being an ethnic minority in a very Anglo school where there was only a meagre smattering of other cultures.

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