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Food for Thought: The Food Cataloger

Joined: 11/27/2014
Posts: 1
Mona Lisa is similar to a Big Mac; a blank, A4-size paper to an exquisite linguine alle vongole. It seems absurd to equate the products of tremendous effort and skill to those of perfunctoriness. However, this absurdity can only be observed when we see ourselves as skilled producers of art or food. To consumers, even the most consummate work of art or cuisine is rendered to a prototypical image or taste, the icons by which our memory identifies products.

Just as I summon the image of Mona Lisa when hearing the masterpiece’s name, I match various foods with their archetypal tastes: McDonald French fries with saltiness and lemonades with tart sourness. But the foods rarely receive further attention than verifying that the food I eat is satisfactory. I finish my meal, my life moves on to talking with friends, studying, and classes. In truth, food was just the stuff I put into my mouth for energy.

Then I started the Food Cataloging project. My art teacher required students to make a food catalog, including the price, picture, and description of foods we ate. He asked us to be as descriptive as possible, to become connoisseurs and food critics.

I visited familiar restaurants—the school cafeteria and regular venues—and savored the food I ate every day for the past few years with a mission: I wanted to experience the food, appreciate it, and savor each meal. The makguksu I ate from a small street-side stall by my school presented a small bowl of vermicelli-like buckwheat noodles with potent red pepper paste; the dish was rounded out by the subtly fragrant scent of sesame oil. The next day, a bowl of water-makguksu simmered before me; the bracing, crisp radish water kimchi soup and slightly thicker and rougher buckwheat noodles offered a spicy but savory meal for a cool day. My next dinner consisted of roasted pork belly morsels prepared with minced scallions seasoned in chili powder and sesame oil. I slowly chewed the juicy cubes of meat and felt the chili powder flood my senses. For snack during school, I ate stir-fried rice cake. The cylindrical, dense rice cakes swam in red sauce. A particular favorite of me and my friend group, I surrendered to the habit of eating the rice cakes while chatting.

The project ran its course and the teacher asked me what I learned about the foods I sampled and categorized. Mulling over his question, I reflected on the rushed slurping of makguksu, the chatty tittering of a friend group nibbling on rice cakes, but also the thousands of other meals which preceded this project. Family dinners, nights out with friends, home-cooked feasts and celebratory meals—they all were tied together by the food we shared. I learned to take my time and appreciate the meals I have, the foods I enjoy, and the memories I make as I chew.
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