Eat to live, live to eat

Yoo Young Chun, Head Photo/Art Editor, Features Editor, Features Columnist

Today for lunch I’m going to eat a cucumber sandwich with hummus on white bread. I should have packed whole grain, but I’m allowing myself to eat white in exchange for cutting out any meats. Then for dinner… I think I’m going to eat some rice, maybe some sausages, kimchi, hopefully some stir-fried vegetables. And what else… oh! My family just bought a huge jar of sauerkraut so that’ll taste really good with the sausages.

As I typed this, my fingers were tingling and I almost started drooling. Food makes me so happy. Sometimes it’s the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning and the last thing that crosses my mind when I go to sleep at night.

I’ve always loved food. As a toddler, I was relatively easy to raise. I was quiet and didn’t fuss over much. When relatives wanted to hold me and play with me, I didn’t cry. I loved the attention. When I had to go to the dentist or the doctor, I never shed one tear. I was one stoic kid. But when I was hungry? I was a force to be reckoned with. My mom never fails to remind me with a tired sigh how I would plop myself down in front of the refrigerator and just wail until I was fed.

In elementary school, I was that kid that would go down the lunch table and ask if anyone had any extra snacks. Goldfish, Cheez-its, apple slices, Oreos, anything! Just as long as it satisfied my monstrous appetite. I don’t remember ever feeling full when I was younger. I was always craving something. Anything.

I miss when I was young and had these caveman instincts. If I wanted to eat something, I would eat it and be happy. The only emotion I connected with eating was happiness, and a bit of greed. As I grew older, my relationship with food became less simple. It was unpredictable, at times unhealthy and defined by one emotion: fear.

I was scared of what I ate. I was scared of eating too much, eating too little, gaining weight, losing weight. I was scared of the effects food can have on me. Maybe worrying about what I consumed was simply a symptom of maturing in a society that puts so much emphasis on what’s on the dinner plate. Although, it certainly didn’t help growing up hearing comments from family members and friends obsessing over nutrition and weight.

The only time I felt truly stable is when I ate the homemade Korean food my mom makes for me. My favorite dish of hers is kimchijjigae, a stew with kimchi, pork and vegetables. A bowl of that and some rice eased any anxieties I had about food. How can I be scared of something that tastes so good and was made with so much love and care?

The thing is, her delicious stew couldn’t protect me from the dangerous seesaw of high school lunch. Being given that much freedom over a meal while being in a new environment of stress and insecurities meant that eating lunch in high school was an absolute disaster.

When I was a freshman, I was like one of those rubber band balls that could snap at any moment. I had so many worries, and I was so much harder on myself than I should have been. I never cried in class or outwardly showed my distress over a bad grade. Instead, I took my frustration out on myself. If I did badly on a test, I would purposely miss lunch as punishment, and eat junk food when I got too hungry. I was self-destructive to the point that I would make myself sick, but not enough for anyone, not even myself, to notice. The happiness I had in food diminished so much over time that eventually food became a broken two-sided mirror. My emotions reflected the food I ate and the food I ate reflected my emotions.

I’ve learned so much since then about how to take care of myself. If my relationship with food crumbling over time was a symptom of growing up, then so was building it up again. I know how to be excited about food again! Last year I started working at a bakery, and after every shift, I buy the best bread and plan out what kinds of sandwiches I’m going to make throughout the week. Cucumber and hummus was today. I think tomorrow I’m going to pack some prosciutto with… oh! Some sauerkraut. That’s going to be so good.

When I go off to college next year and have to manage a lot more for myself than lunch, I know I’m going to struggle. Being miles away from my mother’s kimchijjigae is going to be so hard. I honestly don’t really know what to expect and how I’m going to deal with so much change. I do know, however, that I’ve built enough of a foundation for myself that I’ll be able to push through the hardships. I can never look at food with the same joy I used to as a child, but at least now food isn’t a source of anxiety or a mirror for anything anymore. Food is just food.

That’s the way it should be.