Don’t White-Wash My Food - I Like My Meals Seasoned and Spiced

A small Tupperware box concealed with a bright green lid was all I could think of back in 2004. Lunch was my favourite subject because I didn’t care for school all that much. 

However, for forty minutes during recess, my only saving grace was my mom’s love and care, concealed in a plastic container. As soon as the clock struck noon, my classmates and I ran to our cubicles to grab our lunch. 

I always found it strange how eight slices of cheese, crackers, ham and an occasional Kit-Kat bar was filling to most kids. My classmates traded their Lunchables like a deck of Pokemon cards. 

I sat next to a boy who saved the coupons printed on the cardboard sleeves of his Lunchables so that he could buy them in excess. 

But of course, there was the occasional mac and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs or a Thermos filled with chicken noodle soup on cold days. I rarely indulged. 

I wasn’t all too familiar with boxed juices, apple slices and chicken nuggets. My mom would prepare Chicken Adobo or Beef Sinigang with rice. She’d occasionally pack a few cookies and Cream Polvorons for me to snack on. 

“What are you eating?” a girl sat next to me asked. She stared down at my Chicken Adobo as if it was a freshly dissected frog. 

“Chicken … and rice.” I didn’t meet her eyes and continued eating.

“I can smell it from here,” she exclaimed while wrinkling her nose and resuming conversation with her friend. I put down my fork. I wasn’t hungry anymore. I knew my mom would hound at me for not finishing my lunch.

Back at home, my mom would ask me what I wanted to eat for lunch the next day. She tossed around the regulars - in which most of the meals contained rice but I shook my head. I didn’t want anyone to know that I ate rice regularly. 

I asked for Lunchables - the ham and cheese kind. I remember my mom eyeing me strangely. She still agreed, as it was better than throwing away food she knew I wasn’t going to eat. 

For the next few weeks, I had nothing but Lunchables. Ham, cheese and crackers with a chocolate bar on the side. I was never satisfied, as my stomach growled and churned for the remaining few hours of school until I could rush home and eat something more filling. 

My glorious forty minutes felt like a droning two hours. Lunch became a source of anxiety. I was never excited to eat and my lunches paled in comparison to the vibrant Filipino flavours I craved. Eating rice, using a spoon and fork or literally anything that didn’t conform to the standard Western diet- transformed into something I was ashamed of. As a result, I hardly ate. 

One day at school, I realised that sushi was now trending amongst the popular kids. Chopsticks became cool and cucumber and salmon rolls were the new Lunchables. I was mad. I found myself questioning why popular white kids were assigned gatekeepers of certain foods. 

Why was ethnic cuisine benchmarked according to white taste buds by default? I yearned validation from people whose food I neither craved nor found appetising. These thoughts challenged my place in a predominantly white school.

I knew I wasn’t the only one that struggled with cultural alienation. My foreign friends were also in the habit of adapting to bologna sandwiches, often stuffing their packed lunches below their desks, out of sight.

To this day, my experiences in elementary school still affect my eating habits. I always feel as if though I'm being watched; as if my cultural heritage shapes other people's perception of me. 

But things are changing. We’ve grown to be more culturally accepting. Diversity is something that is being celebrated - not suppressed. 

Ultimately, I'm just grateful to realise the difference between processed ham and filet mignon. Now, I’ve got the next few years to wash that horrid taste out of my mouth. 

Sophie celebrating her birthday with Filipino Pancit as the main course.