There’s a word in Korean that is arguably the most important in the culture:
밥 (pronounced “bahp”)
It can mean cooked rice or a meal, and for people who grew up with the word in their house, it’s usually thought of in the context of:
밥을 먹고! (COME EAT!)
Before starting school in Canada, I only spoke Korean at home, so I thought 밥 was the universal word for food. I either wanted 밥, had too much 밥, dropped my 밥 on the ground, or got 밥 shoved in my mouth. I’m pretty sure I knew that a banana was different than a spicy bowl of Korean soup, and that short ribs tasted different than octopus, but I still generally considered all of it to be 밥.
This is quite different to how my own first-language English children are growing up. Perhaps because of both linguistic and cultural differences, they started naming specific ingredients in food pretty much since they could utter words. “That’s rice”, “this is chicken”, and “I don’t like asparagus”.
Let me tell you, I grew up eating good food. Sure, my parents fluctuated on the spectrum of income, and we were certainly low on that continuum in the earliest (and various other) days, but we always ate well. I did not complain.
Until I started school.
It was at school that I started learning about the food groups and how important it was to eat healthy. As soon as I learned about it, I remember coming home to tell my mother.
“Mom, we’ve got to start eating vegetables.”
“Vegetables. We have to eat more. Like broccoli or spinach or peas. C’mon mom, please!”
Meanwhile, my dinner that day probably resembled something like this.
Koreans eat a ridiculous amount of vegetables. But, obviously, I didn’t even know that myself. I wasn’t in the habit of naming and compartmentalizing individual ingredients on our dinner table. It was all 밥 to me. I’ll never forget seeing a TV dinner for the first time and dreaming about how much healthier my diet would be if I had some of those baby carrots and mashed potatoes on the side of my meat.
I thought back to this time in my life recently after having a conversation with other educators about English as a Second Language Learners and standardized testing. We talked about the importance of making the tests equitable by making sure vocabulary and cultural references were not specific to just one dominant culture. One person noticed that “plywood” was being used in a math problem, and was concerned about which cultures might be unfairly puzzled by the concept. This immediately made me think of 밥, so I reminded them that perhaps it wasn’t that some students are puzzled by the thing itself, but just by the word.
Being a child of colour or low income doesn’t necessarily preclude you from having rich, intricately-woven life experiences. Instead of always thinking that fostering equity means filling in knowledge and experiential deficits, let’s remember that social assistance recipients go camping, Iranians are engineers, and Koreans eat vegetables, too.