Lives Lived | Tammy Ho Lai-Ming
Very often, food is not simply the substance that keeps one living. It is related to culture, societal preferences, economics, class, gender expectations, the predilections of individuals, and so much more. What a person eats, or refuses to eat, the manner of how one consumes the food in front of them, and the way food is talked of or not talked of at all—all tell us something about that person.
One can’t help but notice how preparing food and eating (and specifically, families dining together) is prominently featured in Asian films, such as Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman, Kore-eda Hirokazu’s Still Walking, Eric Khoo’s Be with Me, or Edward Yang’s Yi-Yi. The elaborate preparation of the dishes, which are subsequently spread across the table, the comments on the food that are also subtle comments on the people: the gastronomic is very personal indeed. The frequent sighting of food in Asian films reflects how life and food are inseparable.
Food also seems to lend itself particularly well to certain literary genres. Fantasy novels are a case in point: “Food in fantasy dates back to early myths and legends, which are full of symbolic, often menacing fare,” according to Anne Ewbank. In the pieces collected here, food finds its expression in poetry as well. And, talking about food poems, it is unsurprising that we return to the much-loved Hong Kong poet Leung Ping-kwan, who in his poetry and prose has reminded us how food speaks to the character of a city, of a people.
We open with five translations of Leung Ping-kwan’s poems and a poem inspired by Leung’s work, before moving on to poets from all across the world: Japan, India, the Philippines, Vietnam, Germany, the UK, Italy… Some poems focus on specific foods and contemplate their cultural and personal significance. Some comment on food trends, food and friendships, food and nations, and food and language.
Many of the poems collected here are not only about food but also about lives lived. For example, the father and son in Kit Fan’s “Duodenum,” the pig intestines which the granny beats and pulls in Cheng Tim Tim’s “Entrails,” the food wisdom Mama offers in Phoebe Poon’s “Tastes,” the exultation of food experiences and encounters with remarkable individuals across the globe in Jason S Polley’s part-travelogue, part-memoir “Chinatowns Calcutta, China-wallahs Dhaka.”
I hope reading the poems in this selection will inspire you to see food slightly differently and to explore other novel ways to understand the humble everyday meal.
/// POETS featured in the FOOD section: Leung Ping-kwan ◍ Giovena Songwenjia Wang ◍ Michael Anthony Ingham ◍ Eileen Chong ◍ Jun Pang ◍ Alistair Noon ◍ Ana Padilla Fornieles ◍ Jason S Polley ◍ Nguyễn-Hoàng Quyên ◍ Danton Remoto ◍ Belle Ling ◍ Zoria Petkoska Kalajdjieva ◍ Phoebe Poon ◍ Michael Tsang ◍ Sithuraj Ponraj ◍ Lawrence Pettener ◍ Cheng Tim Tim ◍ Nicole Lai ◍ Jiaoyang Li ◍ Paola Caronni ◍ Kit Fan ◍ Sally Yue Lin ◍ Shikhandin ///