Do you know what is better than charity and fasting and prayer?

It is keeping peace and good relations between people,

as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind.

- Prophet Mohammed


Day 20

Marrying someone from another country has its ups and downs. And while the ups are much more pronounced, the downs must also be considered. Fortunately, the downs are pretty minor and are mostly centered around food issues. As an American, I prefer a more tomato-based diet insofar that I like tomato sauces, ketchup, BLT's and tomato soup. As a Korean, my wife prefers a more pepper-based diet. Most Korean food--and I mean almost every dish--is seasoned in a red chili powder which gives it a red shade. Sometimes these preferences lead us to disagree about what we want for dinner. I'm pretty tolerant of any sort of food, yet, whenever I'm really hungry, I want Western cuisine and similarly, she craves Korean. This month, however, I've pretty much had no choice. She's the boss. 

Luckily for me, my palate has grown quite accustomed to Korean  food, so it's not that big of a deal. Yesterday, however, was a special day in Korea. It's the day when everyone seeks out a specific dish to combat the heat.

There is a history behind this soup and some health benefits as well, but the amount of enthusiasm that Koreans have year after year for this dish is stunning. Since all of my food must be offered, I have very few options when my wife wants to eat at a certain restaurant. She would never force me to eat meat or something I didn't like (and I don't like this ginseng chicken dish by the way), but from the looks of the crowded restaurant we were in yesterday, I thought I might be alone on that one. But the more I think about it, I don't think I am.

As mentioned above, I have a very adventurous appetite. I've eaten every fruit and vegetable offered in Asia as well as live-octopus, whale, shark fin, crocodile, dog, pig face, cow intestines, kangaroo, ostrich, seal, eel, chicken heart, chicken feet, chicken gizzard, spiders, scorpions, silkworm pupae, cicadas and sea horses. Hell, I even tried this:

Each time I eat a new (and rather odd) dish here in Korea, it always is accompanied by a long lecture about how healthy it is and why it's probably the healthiest in the world (and certainly much better than whatever they believe American cuisine to be). I had a student yesterday claiming that Korean ginseng is superior to all other ginseng and while it might be true (I have no knowledge either way), he only offered a because-because argument.

Do Koreans like their food for health first and taste second? Or is it the other way around? Maybe it's just ingrained in their minds that three times a year, eating ginseng chicken is what is done. After all, Americans do the same thing at Thanksgiving. As my past blood pressure can attest to, I always preferred the tasty food rather than the health food and, to my detriment, my 27-year old clogged arteries paid the price. However, there is a lot of healthy AND tasty food in Korea. So why can't it be both?

One of the joys of doing these religions is that I get to participate in the actual worship. This was impossible for me this month as there aren't any Jain temples in Korea, but I did get to read about some of the rules while performing rituals in the temple. There are eight items to perform (paju). 
      Naivedya symbolizes tasty food. By doing this puja, one should
thrive to reduce or eliminate attachment to tasty food. Healthy
food is essential for survival, however one should not live for
tasty food. Ultimate aim in one's life is to attain a life where
no food is essential for survival. That is the life of a liberated
soul who lives in Moksha for ever in ultimate blissful state.
Liberating myself from food is something that I have tried to master this month. I've been at this for 20 days and I can say that my opinion of food has changed a lot. At first, I wanted it because I couldn't have it. That desirous stage lasted a few solid days where I would find myself positioning in hopes of being offered something. After I broke that cycle, food became a simple annoyance. I needed it, but since I could get it for myself, I just got irritated by the whole thing. Now, I'm starting to realize that food has lost a lot of it zing for me. Essentially, the immediate gratification that some food offers isn't something that I'm seeking out anymore. My palate has calmed a bit and I think that some food that I used to consider gross and bland (healthy) has actually proven itself to be pretty tasty. The very concept of what is and isn't tasty is learned from childhood. It's cultural and just like so many other aspects of our lives, we create barriers and stereotypes that limit our exposure with shallow demonetizations of what isn't "ours". I am not liberated from my desire to eat delicious food. That will take years and years of practice. What has happened, though, is that my palate has once again proven to me that it has an ability to change and adapt. Some food is both healthy and tasty and while I think it's foolish to write off something because it is delicious, the larger lesson here is that people should not be slaves to their own cultural palate. Liberation comes in many forms and the Jains have realized that. I have a doctors appointment on Thursday. Time to see if my diet has helped with my blood pressure. And even if it hasn't, at least I won't be worried when they tell me to eat more veggies and fruit.

1 comment:

  1. George, it has been very interesting seeing the ham sandwich, pecan twirl, bagel bites guy move so far beyond that or anything I could really ever imagine. This BP issues probably also have to do with what your DRANK. Americans do live to eat...more than other countries I think. We do not understand moderation. Anyway, I am proud of your broadening and awakening in this area.