I have a Korean Mom story for you today! It’s about my very own Korean Mom and how her relationship to food has shaped who I am today.
Push and Pull
Growing up, food wasn’t consistent. My folks were young and broke, with three kiddos to feed, so they used whatever they had to scrape by. Basically, this meant that we ate simply for the most part — rice and side dishes, hot dogs and macaroni w/ cheese, and lots of PB & J’s. If my folks had a little extra money, they’d “treat us” by getting take out pizzas or some kind of fast food. As a kid, this felt like a feast-famine cycle. We weren’t really into the at home simple meals — so we at those sparingly (famine), but were SUPER INTO the take out/fast food/restaurant stuff and gorged ourselves when it was someone’s birthday or another form of “treat” (feast).
As my folks began to find better jobs and finances stabilized, the list of reasons to feast grew. Instead of just once in awhile (maybe twice a year?), it turned into two or three times per month — birthdays, anniversaries, good grades, good moods… etc… Now that we’re all grown, with jobs and families of our own, basically every time we see our folks we go out to eat. The restaurants are nicer but the feast mentality is the same.
There were more factors beyond finances that contributed to the feast-famine cycle. My mom’s moods were a huge factor — and how she felt about you in the moment dictated more than just how she treated you, it directly correlated to the fullness of your belly.
If you don’t have a Korean Mom, I recommend reading or watching the Joy Luck Club. Sure, the moms in it aren’t Korean, but most of those stories hit really close to home. In one scene, a little girl (Waverly) smarted off to her mom in public (embarrassing her) and was later punished by being denied a place at the meal table (that’s how I interpret it… “We are not concerning this girl. This girl not have concerning for us.”)
This very much strikes a chord with me. My mom and I were always at odds, which meant I was usually shunned at the dinner table. No one looked at me. No one spoke to me. I didn’t look up from my plate. I didn’t say a word.
Not that I didn’t have a place at the table and food to eat, my mom’s not neglectful — but it was made very clear that I wasn’t in favor. My mom would do little things like making sure the best dishes were pulled farthest away from me or that I’m not offered seconds, though my siblings would be offered thirds or fourths (she pushed food onto them to punish me and vice versa when it was their turn).
Food is love
In my time of favor, food was funneled down my throat — because to my mom, food is love. If you did good, you get lots of food.
Looking back on family pictures, you can see who was out of favor the most — as I was the leanest of all my siblings — and I still am to this day. That’s not to say that I’m lean, I still have a challenging relationship with food, as you can imagine, but my brother and sister definitely took advantage of me being in trouble to get whatever they wanted to eat… and often.
Lucky for them, I was usually in trouble — I would run my mouth and make my mom upset daily… sometimes all she’d have to do was look at me and she’d get pissed!
Now that we’re grown — we siblings are feeling the residual effects of our upbringing. Many are positive — I’m thankful to my mom for so many things that she did, because I’m definitely stronger today because of it. I’m a fighter and I learned how to fight and stick up for my beliefs by going rounds with her. I’m able to take care of myself — because I was too stubborn to ask for help.
Some residual effects, of course, are more negative. For one, once I was in total control of feeding myself — it was like a feeding frenzy. I’d order every appetizer and dessert I wanted when I would go out to eat, because I was paying (and I do what I want! lol!). The most disturbing pattern of behavior that continues to torment me today is my desire to reward myself with food.
Had a bad day? Here’s some food. Had a great day? Here’s some food. Feeling lonely? FOOD Feeling sad? FOOD
Learning how to love myself and reward myself without being my own proud Korean Mom is tricky — it’ll be something I’ll probably battle with for a while.
Side note — I’m also totally a food pusher! When friends or loved ones come over, I can’t stop myself from wanting to make sure they have anything and everything they could want to eat. I catch myself doing it at times and honestly am so ashamed — I can only shrug and shake my head… what can I say? I’m my mother’s daughter…
I can only try my hardest to do better. I may not succeed, but I will give it everything I’ve got to ensure that if I ever have kids, they’ll know that no matter what I (1) love them and (2) will feed them consistently whether I’m happy or sad. No feast-famine. No push-pull.
How was your relationship with food shaped by your past?
Do you show love by feeding? Are you a food pusher?