How Learning to Cook Korean Food Helped Me Grieve (and Heal)
The winner of Glamour's 2016 essay contest shares a story of heartbreak and in-the-kitchen healing.
By Michelle Zauner

I’m so tired of white guys on TV telling me what to eat. I’m tired of Anthony Bourdain testing the waters of Korean cuisine to report back that, not only will our food not kill you, it actually tastes good. I don’t care how many times you’ve traveled to Thailand, I won’t listen to you—just like the white kids wouldn’t listen to me, the half-Korean girl, defending the red squid tentacles in my lunch box. The same kids who teased me relentlessly back then are the ones who now celebrate our cuisine as the Next Big Thing.

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, in a small college town that was about 90 percent white. In my adolescence I hated being half Korean; I wanted people to stop asking, “Where are you really from?” I could barely speak the language and didn’t have any Asian friends. There was nothing about me that felt Korean—except when it came to food.

At home my mom always prepared a Korean dinner for herself and an American dinner for my dad. Despite the years he’d lived in Seoul, selling cars to the military and courting my mom at the Naija Hotel where she worked, my dad is still a white boy from Philadelphia.

So each night my mom prepared two meals. She’d steam broccoli and grill Dad’s salmon, while boiling jjigae and plating little side dishes known as banchan. When our rice cooker announced in its familiar robotic voice, “Your delicious white rice will be ready soon!” the three of us would sit down to a wondrous mash-up of East and West. I’d create true fusion one mouthful at a time, using chopsticks to eat strips of T-bone and codfish eggs drenched in sesame oil, all in one bite. I liked my baked potatoes with fermented chili paste, my dried cuttlefish with mayonnaise.

There’s a lot to love about Korean food, but what I love most is its extremes. If a dish is supposed to be served hot, it’s scalding. If it’s meant to be served fresh, it’s still moving. Stews are served in heavy stone pots that hold the heat; crack an egg on top, and it will poach before your eyes. Cold noodle soups are served in bowls made of actual ice.

By my late teens my craving for Korean staples started to eclipse my desire for American ones. My stomach ached for al tang and kalguksu. On long family vacations, with no Korean restaurant in sight, my mom and I passed up hotel buffets in favor of microwaveable rice and roasted seaweed in our hotel room.

And when I lost my mother to a very sudden, brief, and painful fight with cancer two years ago, Korean food was my comfort food. She was diagnosed in 2014. That May she’d gone to the doctor for a stomachache only to learn she had a rare squamous cell carcinoma, stage four, and that it had spread. Our family was blindsided.

I moved back to Oregon to help my mother through chemo­therapy; over the next four months, I watched her slowly disappear. The treatment took everything—her hair, her spirit, her appetite. It burned sores on her tongue. Our table, once beautiful and unique, became a battleground of protein powders and tasteless porridge. I crushed Vicodin into ice cream.

Dinnertime was a calculation of calories, an argument to get anything down. The intensity of Korean flavors and spices became too much for her to stomach. She couldn’t even eat kimchi.

I began to shrink along with my mom, becoming so consumed with her health that I had no desire to eat. Over the course of her illness, I lost 15 pounds. After two rounds of chemo, she decided to discontinue treatment, and she died two months later.

As I struggled to make sense of the loss, my memories often turned to food. When I came home from college, my mom used to make galbi ssam, Korean short rib with lettuce wraps. She’d have marinated the meat two days before I’d even gotten on the plane, and she’d buy my favorite radish kimchi a week ahead to make sure it was perfectly fermented.

Then there were the childhood summers when she brought me to Seoul. Jet-lagged and sleepless, we’d snack on homemade banchan in the blue dark of Grandma’s humid kitchen while my rela­tives slept. My mom would whisper, “This is how I know you’re a true Korean.”

But my mom never taught me how to make Korean food. When I would call to ask how much water to use for rice, she’d always say, “Fill until it reaches the back of your hand.” When I’d beg for her galbi recipe, she gave me a haphazard ingredient list and approximate measurements and told me to just keep tasting it until it “tastes like Mom’s.”

After my mom died, I was so haunted by the trauma of her illness I worried I’d never remember her as the woman she had been: stylish and headstrong, always speaking her mind. When she appeared in my dreams, she was always sick.

Then I started cooking. When I first searched for Korean recipes, I found few resources, and I wasn’t about to trust Bobby Flay’s Korean taco monstrosity or his clumsy kimchi slaw. Then, among videos of oriental chicken salads, I found the Korean YouTube personality Maangchi. There she was, peeling the skin off an Asian pear just like my mom: in one long strip, index finger steadied on the back of the knife. She cut galbi with my mom’s ambidextrous precision: positioning the chopsticks in her right hand while snipping bite-size pieces with her left. A Korean woman uses kitchen scissors the way a warrior brandishes a weapon.

I’d been looking for a recipe for jatjuk, a porridge made from pine nuts and soaked rice. It’s a dish for the sick or elderly, and it was the first food I craved when my feelings of shock and loss finally made way for hunger.

I followed Maangchi’s instructions carefully: soaking the rice, breaking off the tips of the pine nuts. Memories of my mother emerged as I worked—the way she stood in front of her little red cutting board, the funny intonations of her speech.

For many, Julia Child is the hero who brought boeuf bourguignon into the era of the TV dinner. She showed home cooks how to scale the culinary mountain. Maangchi did this for me after my mom died. My kitchen filled with jars containing cabbage, cucumbers, and radishes in various stages of fermentation. I could hear my mom’s voice: “Never fall in love with anyone who doesn’t like kimchi; they’ll always smell it coming out of your pores.”

I’ve spent over a year cooking with Maangchi. Sometimes I pause and rewind to get the steps exactly right. Other times I’ll let my hands and taste buds take over from memory. My dishes are never exactly like my mom’s, but that’s OK—they’re still a delicious tribute. The more I learn, the closer I feel to her.

One night not long ago, I had a dream: I was watching my mother as she stuffed giant heads of Napa cabbage into earthenware jars.

She looked healthy and beautiful.

Michelle Zauner is a writer and musician in Brooklyn.

The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do.

Samuel P. Huntington, cited on the ‘Where is Raed?’ website, a day-to-day journal of everyday life in Baghdad under bombardment.

Extract in Robert J. C. Young, Postcolonialism, A Very Short Introduction (UK: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 32.

Hi y'all! 

I’ve compiled a list of readings that speak to issues of nationalism, indigeneity, colonialism, and resistance/decolonization

The list is of course limited to what readings I’ve encountered at some point. They also come from a variety of academic disciplines and political movements (settler colonial studies, native studies, queer theory, postcolonial studies, feminist studies, trans studies).

And, with a few exceptions, these files were legally uploaded and shared… a lot of the time by the authors themselves, which I feel the need to point out because I love when authors can/do share their work online for free. (I say this not because I’m worried about the sanctity of ‘intellectual property’ but because I’m worried about things being deleted.)

Also re-linking to this list of pdf readings, “Natives Read Too,” from The Yáadihla Girls!

 human rights/war/nationalism/sovereignty 

transnational/native/postcolonial feminisms & feminist critiques: 

decolonization, art, and resistance (not necessarily feminist):  

queer theory/sexuality studies/native studies/trans studies 

*Actually just going to link to this page of Dr. Puar’s work because it’s  great and relevant (and she also has a lot of work on Israel/Palestine).

critiques of humanitarianism/developmentalism: 

[Really wish I knew more about this kind of work.] 

Biopolitics, science, environmental justice 

and…. U.S. politics  

12 Books to Keep Your Feminism Intersectional

by Crystal Paul of Bustle

1. Women, Race, and Class by Angela Y. Davis

This is definitely one of the must-reads for any intersectional feminist. A bit dated at this point, but still important, it takes a look at the very issues of exclusion that have hindered the feminist movement since abolition days.

2. Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

Honestly, this will just be one of the best books you’ll ever read. It’s not only an important queer, feminist book, it’s also just a beautifully told story of struggle and love.

3. Woman, Native, Other by Trinh T. Minh-ha

Minh-ha delivers a full-frontal attack against the notion of erasure as a means of unified feminism. She argues for a feminism that fights against oppression of all kinds, because women all over the world face oppression at the hands of different forces and factors. And she attacks everything that “others” everything non-white or non-Western. It’s bold and awesome and a classic of postcolonial feminist theory.

4. Assata by Assata Shakur

Assata is part memoir of the radical awakening of a young black woman in the ‘60s and ‘70s, part personal testimony of a broken, racist justice system. In all its parts it’s a lyrical, addictive read that immerses you in one of the most important eras in the Black liberation struggle. By the end you’ll be outraged, angry, and itching for revolution.

5. Random Family by Adrian LeBlanc

Adrian LeBlanc took a lot of care with this book. Working over 10 years and forming close relationships with the families she writes about, LeBlanc offers up an intimate portrait of the lives of two women in a social class that often goes overlooked or misrepresented in popular U.S. culture and scholarly study. It’s importance is in the deeply personal rather treatment, rather than the almost zoological portrayals that often befall lower economic classes.

6. Sex Workers Unite! A History of the Movement from Stonewall to Slutwalk by Melinda Chateauvert

Sex workers are often cast as unwilling victims. Melinda Chateauvert challenges this portrayal by showing that many sex workers are in fact empowered, legitimate workers and have been powerful agents of social change throughout history. This book will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about sex work.

7. The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions by Paula Gunn Allen

An oldie but a goodie, The Sacred Hoop is a corrective on the crucial role of indigenous women in history and tribal tradition. It’s not a perfect book, but it’s an important one that asserts the presence of Native American women.

8. This Bridge Called My Back by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa

This anthology is incredible! It’s got essays, interviews, poetry, and even visual art from women of so many different backgrounds. It’s kind of what intersectional feminism should look like in book form. Or, at least, darn close to it.

9. Women and Gender in Islam by Leila Ahmed

Need to check your assumptions about Islam and the treatment of women in the Middle East? Leila Ahmed’s book is an invitation to do just that. So many stereotypes and assumptions about Muslim women and their treatment under Islam abound, but one can hardly make snap judgements about Islam any more than you can about any other religion. Ahmed dives into the text itself and the history of the Western gaze that has led to misunderstanding about Islam and gender.

10. Gender Trouble by Judith Butler

With Gender Trouble, Judith Butler went straight for bold by questioning the very notion of gender as a part of feminism. If you took a Gender Studies course in college, it was probably on the syllabus. But it’s always worth another look, considering the book was originally written in the '90s, when Butler’s straight talk about the complexity of gender and sexuality was pretty ground-breaking. Since then, Butler’s reconsidered some of her ideas in newer books that are also worth picking up.

11. Brick Lane by Monica Ali

Not every book you read has to be a heavy non-fiction read. Actually getting a little fiction into your intersectional diet is a healthy way to dig into perspectives outside of your own on a more personal level. Brick Lane is a look at a young Bangladeshi woman coming of age in the middle of an arranged marriage and thrust into a new culture miles away from home. Whatever perspectives you’re looking to explore, there are so many stories out there that want to be read!

12. On Intersectionality by Kimberlé Crenshaw

Since an intersectional feminist’s work is never done, naturally, you can look forward to a new book on intersectionality straight from the woman herself. Kimberlé Crenshaw’s latest comes out in October this year.

see full article here

Fiction Week!

So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction and Fantasy

ed. Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan


Read a review here


Because it is a systematic negation of the other person and a furious determination to deny the other person all attributes of humanity, colonialism forces the people it dominates to ask themselves the question constantly: “In reality, who am I?“

Franz Fanon, in his most famous work The Wretched of the Earth

One thing that I notice since relocating to the West is the social pressure (maybe even a requirement?) to define who, how, and why you are the person you are. Sometimes you can’t have a simple conversation without taking three minutes to disclose all of your identities and current life practices. Needless to say that is a trend in most queer/trans spaces. The hyper-performance of identification satisfies the individual desire to feel defined and established, along with comfortably placing yourself within the structures we live under. And this definitely applies to gender discourses as well.


But– I realize how both my physical and mental colonization contributes to my situation: The context in which I was brought up (Middle East) is diametrically opposed to the one I am living in now (New York City). The same goes for the language and culture I currently consume. (I talk about these issues more on my personal tumblr: I have let the Western and White queer and trans discourses of gender somehow sneak their way into my life. I now realize that me seeking validation in identifying within this system not only perpetuates colonialism and cultural imperialism, it also halts me from carrying my gender to it’s full potential. Sadly however, when I tell people that I don’t really identify as anything, it ignites confusion and anxieties on their end and I can see from their reactions that they would much rather have a definite, documentable answer from me. (Keep in mind that my personal identification, or the lack thereof, has nothing to do with how I am treated and read in the world but that is a discussion for another article.)

And that is the basic practice of colonialism– Seeing something new, and something that does not belong to you and demanding access and documentation per your values and practices.

Maybe I have taken in the Western individualistic self-branding idea and reverted it at exponential levels, or I simply do not get the discourse, but my answer to this uncomfortable state of being is to say that my gender is my gender and it can’t be compared, situated, or categorized with anyone else’s. When I identify the way I identify currently is simply an enactment of the politics of the self- because frankly I don’t see any other alternative that makes sense to me right now.


The Incredulity of Saint Thomas

Italy (c.1601)

Oil on Canvas, 107 cm × 146 cm.

Sanssouci Palace Museum, Germany

Since Caravaggio’s paintings are all about lighting, contrast, and of course, chiaroscuro, different photographs of the same painting can look rather different.

In any American art history or history of Western Civ classroom, you’re practically guaranteed to hear of and see works from Caravaggio. But this work is less likely to be seen in PowerPoints and textbooks as an example because it includes a man whose race appears ambiguous to Americans-the man with brown skin who represents one of the Apostles accompanying Doubting Thomas to examine the wounds of Christ. Here is an image from of people viewing the painting in a museum, to hopefully offset the illusion that any one specific photograph can capture its colors and contrasts perfectly.

We are encouraged to assume that because he is “from history” he must therefore be white; he is white because he is from history.Sometimes we are even prompted to imagine the people in these paintings as someone we know, perhaps they look like us, or a relative of ours. But if the works we see are limited to only white or white-appearing people, how does this affect our sense of identity and connection to history? Are students of color discouraged from identifying with the people in paintings like this one, and why or why not? Further analysis and examination in this direction is discouraged in most classroom environments and disciplines, although this is beginning to change. My focus is on examining our expectations of these works, and how we as viewers categorize and identify with the people depicted in them.

Solidarity does not assume that our struggles are the same struggles, or that our pain is the same pain, or that our hope is for the same future. Solidarity involves commitment, and work, as well as the recognition that even if we do not have the same feelings, or the same lives, or the same bodies, we do live on common ground.
—  Sara Ahmed

So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction (2004)

“So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy is an anthology of original new stories by leading African, Asian, South Asian and Aboriginal authors, as well as North American and British writers of color.

Stories of imagined futures abound in Western writing. Writer and editor Nalo Hopkinson notes that the science fiction/fantasy genre “speaks so much about the experience of being alienated but contains so little writing by alienated people themselves.” It’s an oversight that Hopkinson and Mehan aim to correct with this anthology.

The book depicts imagined futures from the perspectives of writers associated with what might loosely be termed the “third world.” It includes stories that are bold, imaginative, edgy; stories that are centered in the worlds of the “developing” nations; stories that dare to dream what we might develop into.

The wealth of postcolonial literature has included many who have written insightfully about their pasts and presents. With So Long Been Dreaming they creatively address their futures.

Contributors include: Opal Palmer Adisa, Tobias Buckell, Wayde Compton, Hiromi Goto, Andrea Hairston, Tamai Kobayashi, Karin Lowachee, devorah major, Carole McDonnell, Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, Eden Robinson, Nisi Shawl, Vandana Singh, Sheree Renée Thomas and Greg Van Eekhout.

Edited by Nalo Hopkinson, Uppinder Mehan

Introduction by Samuel R. Delany

Get it now here

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Jesus in the Medieval European Imagination
lifesgrandparade reblogged your photo:

…Is Mary selling a John The Baptist t-shirt in the corner there?

It’s the Veil of Veronica, an image supposedly made miraculously without paint or dye, when Saint Veronica wiped the blood and sweat from the face of Jesus during the crucifixion procession. It’s meant to be the actual face of Christ. Which reminds me of something I really wanted to talk about.

I have an interesting post here on the work by Robert Campin of Flémalle of Saint Veronica holding the miraculous image of Christ:

Monique Scheer has a great paper that I’ve cited before (and which I remain critical of in its conclusions), that sheds so much light on what I mean when I talk about how our perception of these works has been greatly affected by people who wrote about it before our time. From the paper:

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe also expressed a sense of aesthetic disappointment in black madonnas in a comment from 1816: “How the most unhappy of all appearances could have crept in-that, probably for Egyptian or Abessinian reasons, the Mother of God is portrayed as brown, and the face of Our Savior printed on Veronica’s veil was also given a moorish color-may be clarified when that part of art history is more closely examined.“

^ See what I mean?

Academics writing now actually kept the whole idea, they just snipped off the part where it’s openly and blatantly racist in a way we recognize immediately.

I mean, there is plenty of text to support that that’s what a fair amount of Medieval Europeans thought Jesus looked like, more or less. You have Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love:

His clothing was full and ample, as befits a lord; the cloth was as blue as azure, most sober and comely. His expression was merciful, the colour of his face a comely brown with pronounced features; his eyes were black, most comely and handsome, appearing full of tender pity…” (118)


The brown of his fair face with the handsome blackness of the eyes was most suited to showing his holy gravity… (119)

Obviously the Europeans who created these works thought Jesus looked the way he was supposed to, and made images of him this way without really needing to "explain” it. After all, the painting above would have been instantly recognizable to intended viewers as Jesus.

It’s not the Medieval artist Robert Campin who thought he had given the Son of God “the most unhappy of all appearances”, after all!! It was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who decided hundreds of years later that he didn’t care for the appearance of Jesus in that particular work because of his skin color. And in 1816, he decided he was going to come up with some kind of “explanation” for why Jesus and Mary were depicting with a dark and/or brown skin color in so much art from that era.

Anything you read about the Black Madonnas or Medieval European depictions of Jesus with brown or black skin is going to talk about “candle smoke”, parishioners with dirty touchy fingers, aging pigments and “chemical reactions”.

Finally, I am not trying to make a “race claim” for Jesus.

I am saying that there is plenty of evidence that a contingent of Medieval Europeans thought Jesus was brown, that white people in the late 1700s and 1800s didn’t like that because they had racialized skin color and decided brown or Black skin was bad to serve their own purposes, and decided to change history because they didn’t like it.

I am saying that it’s people like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who are responsible for what we think we know about Medieval Europe, because the information we have now was filtered through the racism and colonialism of that century.

And that is “why” and “how” I can apply modern ideas about race to Medieval Art. The intent of the Medieval Artists and their original context is not my main focus here. How these works were received in later centuries and are still interpreted right now is.

Literally, I am a bastard. My parents were not married. I take the bastard view. I don’t feel I owe any honor to the group of people I come from. Not because I hate them or anything, but it’s just that when I’m writing, I am such a singular beast that I refuse to take in any worldly consideration for the people I’m from. When I’m writing, whatever I’m doing, I’m devoted to that, and if [the people I am writing about] look dishonorable in the telling of the writing, I wouldn’t change it. I feel that the best way to honor them is to be true.
—  Jamaica Kincaid, interview with Brittnay Buckner in Callaloo, 31.2.