Cultural Acceptance Through Culinary Openness

Growing up, I was exposed to a wide variety of different foods before I ever knew that they were culturally unusual. I was not inherently adventurous per se, but I was never scared to try new, different foods and, as a result, I developed a palate for the unusual or exotic, as compared to those around me. This openness has allowed me to connect with people over food in ways I may have otherwise been unable to.

Most of the different foods I tried as a young child were introduced to me by my mother. My father is a relatively unadventurous eater (another way of saying that he knows what he likes and he sticks with that), so my mom would have us try new things when he was away for business. Before I reached middle school, I knew that I liked calamari (squid), escargot (snails), venison (deer), and smoked pheasant, the latter two having been hunted and killed by my maternal grandfather and prepared by his wife.

Having a diverse group of friends growing up exposed me to an even richer menu of exotic options. I had rice-and-peas and roti with my friend whose family was from Trinidad. My Korean-American friend exposed me to kimchi and Korean-style ramen. I discovered sushi through my Jewish-American friend whose Bar Mitzvah was at a sushi restaurant.

As a young adult, I was willing to try anything once or twice before deciding I did not like it. My hapkido teacher introduced me to real Korean food. I had lunch at Indian restaurants with my mother on occassion. I ate Vietnamese food for the first time with the woman who taught me reiki and who would eventually perform my wife and my wedding service. Coincidentally, my wife and my first date was also over Vietnamese food.

All of these experiences, I truly believe, made it possible for me to really connect with the woman who would become my wife. She is from Cambodia and, in spite of my having never tried Cambodian food before, I was willing to try the food that her family ate at home. They could be themselves with me at the dinner table, where they gathered as a family. My willingness to sit with them and to eat with them, to accept what was offered to me by them, allowed me to also be accepted by them.

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