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Goeun Park: Not to dwell, but most memories come with food

It’s not unfair to say that nearly all of my favorite memories involve food.

Korean barbecue with the family in the backyard. Breaded shrimp for holiday dinners. Kimchi pancakes on the weekends. Rhubarb pie a la mode. Taco trucks on finals week. Pad Thai at 1 a.m. while cramming for midterms. Sticky rice with mango by the campus center fountain. Green tea ice cream with friends. Fro-yo. More fro-yo.

Especially in the past nine months, so many wonderful moments have been captured in local restaurants and over long meals. I still remember how excited I was to go to L.A.’s Chinatown for dim sum for the first time. I can almost taste the memory of the cold soba noodles and bubbly soda I had in Little Tokyo. The beet burger that stained my fingers purple. Green muffins in Denver.

Food in Southern California is something else. I can sing praises about the honey boba and milk tea drink from Half & Half Tea House all day long, and don’t even get me started on the Neapolitan milkshake from In-N-Out or cinnamon twists from Donut Man or organic animal crackers from Trader Joe’s.

I talk about food a lot because I love food. A lot. The week I got back from school, my mother cooked me all of my favorite dishes and with mild concern, berated me for what she perceived as weight loss since the last time she saw me.

She was not amused by my vegetarian stint or gluten-free phase. “Eat more,” she demanded. “Take care of yourself.”

I come from a stereotypical Asian family that does not say ‘I love you’ but rather, ‘Have you eaten?’ Food is the keystone of the household. Needless to say, I am one of the lucky ones that grew up in from a very food-positive environment. But sometimes, swallowing food can feel like a punishing stab of guilt to the stomach.

I can blame it on the media or society or status quo, but I don’t. I blame it on myself. I suppose that is part of the problem.

I entered fall semester worried about the Freshman 15 and I left fall semester more or less paranoid about my weight.

I lost the thigh gap I had when I was 16. I learned how to hide my stretch marks and stomach rolls. I ate a lot of salad. I hummed to myself, “Once on the lips, forever on the hips,” as I walked past the dessert table.

 I lost weight then gained weight then lost more weight. Now I fluctuate between the states of not caring at all or obsessing a little too much. I try to stay on the side of the former rather than latter.

Of course, moderation is important. Of course, exercise is important. But there’s so much more to life beyond calories in and calories out. In fact, I’m pretty disappointed that I’m talking about something so self-absorbed and petty as this when I could be talking about how amazing How To Train Your Dragon 2 was. (The movie’s great and you should definitely take your kids and significant other and even your non-significant others.)

Point is, I wish I could just say I don’t care and get over myself, but I’d be lying. Being comfortable in who you are takes time, especially when you have no idea who you are or want to be.

But I do know that I do not want to be the kind of woman who counts calories, the kind of woman who is scared of not being thin. I deserve better than that.

I deserve to fill myself chocolate covered berries and hearty slices of pumpkin bread and promises I can keep: I will eat. I will exercise. I will take care of myself. I will not beat myself down. And don’t mind if I do, I will take that cupcake without feeling guilty.

Goeun Park graduated from Detroit Lakes High School and attends college in California.