When I was younger, rice was everywhere.
Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Rinse and repeat. It was my staple of choice, influenced by culture and tradition. It was such a default in my daily diet that whenever I didn’t like what we were having, I would mix in a Goulburn Valley fruit cup with my little mountain of rice and call it a meal.
When I was around the age of ten, I went to my first non-Asian restaurant (not including fast food, because, how else would I build up my happy meal toy collection?) – a steakhouse and grill.
I was shocked to find that we had to order our own individual meals. Like McDonalds, there was no rice or noodle to be found, instead meals had replaced them with a side of chips. Unlike McDonalds, my parents would have to pay up to four times as much.
I was remotely aware that by relative terms, rice wasn’t as popular between my peers as it was for me. However, for a long time, I held the idea that just in the same way my friends had varieties of toast or cereals to choose from for breakfast, that they also had the option of rice and a somewhat hot, breakfast viand, freely available to them.
(Note that I do not have any pictures of myself eating rice. People don’t take pictures of their cereal do they?)
The great moment of realisation I had about my food’s cultural disparity from the western norm came to fruition during the same week that I learnt what stroganoff was (*gasps* Fun fact: I didn’t actually try it until two years later *gasps again*) .
Every year in primary school without question, we spent a week learning about nutrition by having a food diary and listing every single thing we ate. And every year, it became clearer to me that most people didn’t have rice for breakfast or lunch, occasionally appearing on the dinner plate once or twice a week.
Rice was a non negotiable for the most part in my household. I was fine with having rice with either a fried egg, sausages, or spam for the most part. Toast was for weekends and cereal was for holidays.
School holidays were a magical time when I had the breakfast selection of either Crunchy Nut or Fruit Loops. (Again, I was a super confused kid when TV shows had middle aged, soccer mums yell at little Billy and Suzie for having sugary cereal. To me it wasn’t a regular food. I would ask myself, ‘who would ever eat cornflakes for breakfast if they weren’t in the form of Honey Joys?’).
For the longest time I wasn’t ashamed of the food my culture brought, nor was I made to be ashamed of it. If anything, I flaunted its unique nature many times. I liked the fact that I was able to have, by contrast, a big breakfast with flavours that didn’t restrict itself to that of a piece of toast with butter.
I wish I could have held onto that pride and esteem for even just a bit longer.
My pubescent development unfortunately coincided with the advent and rise of Instagram. Through the “hipster blog” *sigh* days, of Tumblr, were pages filled with the implicit understanding of teenage beauty “ideals”.
This message was further developed in impressionable minds through the budding start of the mostly, ill-informed fitness inspiration pages on various platforms of social media. I felt I constantly needed to better myself.
Implicitly or explicitly, I received a message, time and time again: rice was not a friend. So I avoided it. I also unintentionally avoided my culture, my youth, and my staple. As funny as it sounds, I was lacking in so many aspects of my life and a large part of my once prideful identity was gone.
(My rice and the dish accompanying it took about a 51:49 split on my plate. Imagine 51% of yourself slowly disappearing. I’m going to pretend it metaphorically happened to me vertically so in my head I wouldn’t have to horribly attempt mirroring my eye makeup. However, with that being said, I would take having a complete identity over that any day.)
I have learned that what I experience as my cultural norms will never be validated by this society, nor, should I feel the need for them to be.
I would be like trying to eat mac and cheese with only a pair of tongs, or sipping on your beverage with the aid of a spoon – you can do it and no one would stop you, but, it probably wouldn’t be in your best interest. (Disclaimer: I eat rice with a spoon. Team Spoon for life.)
This morning, I ate an egg cooked sunny side up with garlic rice. I couldn’t be more satisfied.
I am unashamedly excited for mango season so I can cube them up and have them with rice – it’s my favourite time of the year.
I grew for most of my adolescence thinking that we grew to conform and be measured against one mould. But not only is that unrealistic, that is merely an impossibility. We are unique and diverse human beings with our own experiences, our own intentions and our own obstacles in life.
To each our own stars and our own hands to reach them with.