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Food creates memories, connections

The taste of home

Coming into America was a challenging time for RBHS parent Dae Young Kim as he immigrated from his native home of South Korea in 1997 to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to get a doctorate at Louisiana State University. Everything in Baton Rouge was different and foreign, from the races of people to the syrupy air. After fumbling with the prepaid phone call code like Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle to talk to his family back home, he entered the world of the Deep South. He was immersed in the vibrant Southern culture and great Cajun food, but he longed for something else: the cuisine of his own country.

“When I first came here, the basis of Korean food such as gochujang [red pepper paste] or doenjang [soybean paste], kimchi, or even soy sauce didn’t exist in Louisiana,” Kim said. “For a while, I used to eat sausage, bacon and rice. I also ate hamburgers. My diet was pretty plain.”

He had some thoughts about how the food in Baton Rouge compared with America’s food as a whole.

“I don’t know if you can consider Cajun food as general American cuisine because it’s a whole different culture there,” Kim said. “But, my first experience with true American food was Burger King. It was okay, but I quickly found that in America that everything was either too sweet or too salty.”

Traditional foods in other countries tend to have less salt and sugar than American food. Some cultures historically did not have sugar because of the inability to grow sugarcane in some countries, and so they made their diets with different spices based on the absence of it. This can mean getting used to a specific spice set when a person grows up.
People develop palettes for certain spices or ways of cooking in the placenta before they are born. The baby inside gets nutrients from the mother and with it, their particular food preference. The process becomes more concrete when, as children, people try the foods in person. This transition between countries with different ways of cooking and seasoning is challenging to adapt to.

Food brings memories from one’s sense of smell. The sense of smell is linked to two parts of the brain. The amygdala deals with emotions, while the hippocampus deals with association. This leads to smells playing a significant role in memories and feelings.  For example, the smell of mangoes might bring back happy memories of home in Mexico.

“You don’t smell something and remember a page of text or an equation or a phone number or something useful like that,” Biologist Stuart Firestein said. “You always remember something like grandma’s living room or the first day of school.”

This is usually why immigrants and visitors have specific cravings for comfort foods that they had at home because they associate good feelings with them. Substitutes in a foreign country, however, fail to replace those foods because of their strong associations.

RBHS Spanish teacher Esteban Pedrazas came to the US in 2006 from Bolivia. These days, he misses the authenticity of the produce in the grocery store.

“The main foods I missed were fruits because, in the store, all of them look nice and are huge,” Pedrazas said. “However, the quality and flavor are not good compared to the fruits in Bolivia. The fruits here tend to be sour and bland, while Bolivia’s fruits have so much flavor and are sweet.”

Throughout the ages, cultivating food for yield and size has hurt the taste, as the genes for it in plants and animals have gotten smaller. Because of the decrease in flavor, people have resorted to putting chemicals in our food to bring back the taste, raising questionable effects on our health. Mark Schatzker, in his book The Dorito Effect, talks about the flavor problem: how cultivating for yield has made the human diet less nutritious and causes the spike in obesity.

“For half a century, we’ve been making the stuff people should eat–fruits, vegetables, whole grains, unprocessed meats–incrementally less delicious,” Schatzker said. “Meanwhile, we’ve been making the food people shouldn’t eat–chips, fast food, soft drinks, crackers–taste even more exciting. The result is exactly what you’d expect.”

On the topic of unhealthy diets, when Pedrazas came to the United States and tried the food, he was less than impressed.

“My first impression was that it was fake. For example, the lemonade was so different, and it was way too sweet,” Pedrazas said. “Everything seemed so processed, and I still don’t like fast food.”

He was disappointed by how hard it was to find the right vegetables or fruits to make the foods he loves. In Bolivia, Pedrazas could find quality ingredients easily, but in the United States, he said it is hard to find good food.

“To get the types of ingredients I usually go to the farmer’s market, but sometimes, it’s iffy because you don’t know if they spray pesticides,” Pedrazas said. “I also don’t like how unauthentic the restaurants are, like Taco Bell.”

Kim also said that he “struggled to find authentic restaurants in America.” This is because immigrants and exchange students have accustomed tastes to certain foods which make substitutes seem terrible in comparison.

Senior Soizic Ambos came from France to the United States in August, 2018 as an exchange student. When she flew here, Ambos missed her mother’s cooking, the cheeses she ate and the bread in France. Her initial reaction to American food was mixed.

“The first time I had American food, it wasn’t very good, but I think the U.S. has so many varieties of products,” Ambos said. “I was very impressed. The USA has the best fast food, but I miss real lunch and dinner like in France. First we have salad, the meal, cheese and bread, and finally, we have dessert.”

Freshman Zihao Zhou felt like it was a hard transition between going from China to the United States. The different styles of making food and the new culture were strange and foreign to him, but then it got better as he made new friends and established an identity in the sea of people in Columbia. His main criticism of American food was that it was too plain.

“I make my Chinese food at home, so I didn’t miss anything, but I think that American food is too meat-centered and not very prepared compared to Chinese food,” Zhou said. “But when done well, a good steak tastes amazing.”

Zhou’s point about meat in the American diet was not too far off from the truth, as the average American ate 222.22 pounds of meat in 2018, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Now, with more advancement in plant-based meat, such as the patty made by Impossible Food, people will gravitate towards a healthier diet. Sausage and bacon, the most popular meats, are listed as Group 1 known carcinogens in most health groups.

Food is part of culture, and it can shape one’s sense of self. When a person goes farther from their home, a part of their identity that they built up in their native country crumbles. Food can help them retain what they have lost. It can also help people transition into their new life in another country.

“I felt homesick and lonely in America with a different culture and language,” Kim said, “but the Korean food that I sometimes made gave me a sense of my culture and my identity, and that’s what matters most.”

Story by: Brandon Kim

The good, the bad, and the fads

It seems every year a new, trendy diet promises to “lose weight fast and keep it off!” Or maybe a new “superfood” packed with amazing benefits is claimed to be the ingredient missing from all of our lives. Perhaps the exact opposite happens – suddenly a food previously thought good for you is now the worst thing a person can put in their body.

Dieting culture has shifted and twisted greatly throughout history. For instance, businessman Horace Fletcher’s diet known as Fletcherism from the late 1800s recommended chewing food until it became liquid to reduce food intake and consequently, conserve money. The Lemonade Diet, which consists of drinking a mixture of lemon juice, maple syrup, water, and cayenne pepper six times a day for at least 10 days was invented in 1941 but made popular again in 2006 when Beyoncé said she lost 20 pounds in two weeks. RB nurse Danielle Lamm doesn’t recommend this type of dieting.

“[We encourage students to make] healthy choices, like lots of fruits and vegetables, everything in moderation, not extremes like only drinking lemon juice for ten days and you lose 10 pounds,” Lamm said. “We discourage things like that… Not worrying about calories and things like that but just making sure what you’re putting in your body is nutritious.”

The definition of “diet” simply refers to the kinds of foods one eats habitually, but our socio-economic environment leads the general public to view it as something restrictive and say something like “I’m going on a diet.”

A “fad diet,” however, really is restrictive in nature. Many of them eliminate certain foods or even a whole food group, resulting in a fat-free, very-low-carb, or high-protein diet. Because of this, they lack major nutrients such as dietary fiber and carbohydrates, as well as vitamins and minerals. So while they may help lose a few pounds of water weight, most are highly ineffective for continued weight loss and long term dieting.

Hundreds of diets have been formulated, altered and rejected as our understanding of nutrition grows. Many present day diets are low-carb and focus on fruit and vegetable intake. Some of the most famous “rabbit food” diets of the twenty-first century include the juice cleanse, the Atkins Diet, and the Paleo Diet.

“If a caveman didn’t eat it, neither should you.” This is the mantra of the Paleo diet, also known as the Stone Age diet, where the dieter is required to eat foods similar to what might have been eaten during the Paleolithic era. They must cut out foods that became common when farming emerged about 10,000 years ago, such as grains, dairy, and legumes. The reasoning behind this is that this rapid change in diet interfered with the body’s ability to adapt, and is believed to be a contributing factor to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Despite this reasoning, dieticians criticize Paleo and Atkins because of their restrictive natures and say that any diet that cuts out entire food groups and emphasizes others isn’t balanced. Although these diets may not be effective for long term weight loss, some have adjusted them according to their needs and found them beneficial, including sophomore Hannah Juengermann.

Juengermann finds the Paleo diet helps to clear her skin and give her energy for playing soccer. Instead of restricting herself from grains and legumes as the diet instructs, she follows the part of the non-dairy and refined sugar.

“I definitely get the results I’m looking for and I think it shows with my skin and the way I play on the field,” Juengermann said. “It’s hard sometimes because high schoolers are not the healthiest and it’s easy to get tempted, but I know it will benefit me in the long run.”

These diets have been some of the most well-known to surface the health world in the past few years. Social media certainly has helped to popularize them, as influencers can easily share their meal plans, workouts, and other #fitspiration posts. Twitter and Instagram have brought in a new era of diet and health communities – like-minded dieters can now connect together and share their fitness journeys.

However, the term “inspiration” is very comparison-driven – social media users tend to look at pictures of goals they wish they could achieve or check marks they haven’t reached instead of focusing on their personal goals.

The Instagram page thehealthtrinity run by sophomore Claire Swindle aims to have a positive influence on mind, body and spirit. She tries to inspire people by empowerment rather than comparison.

“I think it’s all about who you choose to follow,” Swindle said. “Don’t follow accounts that you find yourself comparing your body and life to. Follow accounts that empower and encourage you so you are better utilizing social media for your benefit.”

Not only do influencers or workout accounts affect people, celebrities on social media do, too.

Over the past few years, the positive body image movement has cracked down hard on celebrities. However, some of the ways celebrities influence their audience concerning food have been less than positive. Reality star Kim Kardashian has been involved with a number of controversies involving body image and diet on social media, including when she endorsed Flattummyco’s Appetite Suppressant Lollipops and meal replacement shakes. Angry comments accused her of promoting unhealthy eating habits to her young and impressionable fans.

Another celebrity-endorsed product, Teami, also leaves followers with questions. Promoted by celebrities such as Cardi B, Teami is marketed as an all-natural weight loss detox tea.

This type of product has been seen many times, in the forms of FitTea, MateFit, Lyfe Tea, and Flat Tummy Tea, all of which have been promoted on social media by celebrities such as Kylie Jenner, Nicki Minaj, and Britney Spears.

“For those who promote [diets], I think it can mess with people’s minds into thinking they need to count calories and eliminate foods,” Swindle said. “If [they promote] a brand they’re passionate about…I don’t think that’s harmful and it could inspire people for healthy foods and products to buy!”

The FDA doesn’t regulate these types of substances so these companies can add pretty much whatever ingredients they want. Not only are the teas possibly dangerous, but they also might not even do what they advertise. Most of them act as laxatives or diuretics and don’t lead to continued weight loss or the instant hourglass figure that Cardi B boasts.

“If they are endorsing [products], and you admire them and look up to them, then you’re more likely to do that,” Lamm said. “But it doesn’t mean that just because their name is on something that it’s healthy or safe. Things that may be safer for adults may not be safe for developing teenagers.”

Story by: Sarah Ding

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