Title: Tastes Like War
Author: Grace M. Cho
Read In: 2023
Purchase: Bookshop.org (affiliate link)
Feeding others was a way of making a living and learning to live among people who saw her as always and only a foreigner. It was at once a gesture of nurturance and an act of resistance. And in the repetition of these acts, she created her own worth.
I continued to look for her traces in every book I read and every meal I cooked.
I want to take the fragments of my mother and weave them into a story about her survival. I want to write her back into existence, to let her legacy live on the page, and in so doing, trace my own.
Her favorite colors had always been neutral earth tones like beige, ivory, taupe colors that reminded me of the creamy mushroom casseroles I had seen on the dinner tables of the distant American cousins on my father’s side. To my mother, these colors were “high class, a status she’d always aspired to but could never achieve.
“Mom, are you getting enough to eat?” I asked.
“What about protein?”
She nodded again, then snorted. “They got me powdered milk.
“Oh yeah?” I said, feigning surprise.
She became quiet as if she had already lost her train of thought and was deep in some hallucinatory reverie.
“I can’t stand the taste of it,” she said. “Tastes like war.
She always seemed to put a great deal of thought into her choices to eat or not eat something. In time, I recognized these choices as an expression of agency, tiny acts of rebellion against enormous structures of power.
In her death, she was the sweetest of ghosts.
I don’t think she ever intended for her kimchi to be a kind of resistance, but there was something about making and sharing kimchi that made her feel alive, that made her fight to keep on living in the face of murderous conditions.
Mushroom hunting did not involve the same level of physical exertion as blackberry picking there were no sharp thorns or thickets to navigate, no blazing sun—so my mother allowed me to accompany her on a few excursions. I loved being enveloped by ancient, moss-covered trees and the earthy smell of damp leaves. We were the only two people in the forest. She an explorer and I her sidekick, traveling through a mystical universe of undiscovered species.
The world was huge again, and I would emerge from the dark days of my adolescence into another spring, and life would start anew.
If cooking in my new kitchen grounded me, then dancing with my new friend released me. Being with him allowed me to exist in the moment, to liberate myself from the traumas of the past.
It seemed as if her favorite pastime aside from picking blackberries, was baking blackberry pies. It was, perhaps, not so much a pastime as it was a compulsion, a need to produce something with the sweat of her own labor that she could call her own, that she could choose to give away and not have taken from her.