The following anthropological poem by Singaporean writer Carol Chan first appeared in the ninth issue of the Mascara Literary Review. It was then featured in the fifth installment of Babette's Feast, named The World Must Weigh the Same, as part of Singapore indie bookstore BooksActually's publishing initiative: the Math Paper Press.
Again, this is something that's in line with what I set out to achieve with this blog: a bit of food anthropology, if you will. This poem succinctly explores social issues through food. How we perceive and interact with food according to our cultural backgrounds, is both fascinating and sometimes bewildering.
5pm, and I’m craving popcorn, one of those afternoons
that smell of warm rain that hasn’t yet fallen, the smell
of warm, baked roads and the anticipation of a real good
wash-your-migraine-out storm. I want popcorn.
Popcorn in a bag from the margins of Bangkok, caramel crisp
coffee popcorn from that loved-up train station where
the corn-popper is also a barista who lovingly burns my coffee.
I’m sure she never drinks that filth. But she’s not here
so I make do with cheap popcorn from 7-11. I almost miss her.
The bag says it’s made in Singapore, product of America.
So much of what we eat and do is a product of America
and China. Just last week a Chinese migrant told me he’s never
drunk canned Chinese herbal tea with his meal before. You’re joking,
I said, surely you drink tea with meals. This isn’t tea,
it’s a soft drink, qi shui, he insists, and by the way
in China only white collared workers drink coffee.
His small eyes widen as he adds, and the food here is inedible.
Your people mix different foods together on a plate. It’s all a mess
and tastes nothing like home. He should know; he’s a chef back home.
I don’t tell him that this is home on a plate for me, that in Melbourne
where I lived for four years, I missed this shit everyday.
He spends his days here slicing gourmet cakes, twelve hours a day,
in a factory I have never seen. Those delicate cakes sold in cafes
slicing up his hours, graying those small, surprised eyes.
But now this popcorn will have to do. It’s too soft and plasticky,
tasting of nothing but 7-11 florescent lights
and first-world boredom,
What do you think? What foods remind you of home? Can food bring joy and unhappiness at the same time? In today's highly globalised world, how has food changed in where you live? Tell me! :)
Just a lil more info...
BooksActually: One of my favourite spots to hang out at whenever I'm in Singapore, BooksActually is a charming independent bookstore specialising in Fiction and Literature. This includes Poetry, Essays, Literary Journals, alongside obscure, critical works and antique editions. I particularly like what they stock for the genres of Travel Narrative, Food Narrative, and Aesthetics.
Mascara Literary Review: A bi-annual literary journal founded in 2007, Mascara is particularly interested in the work of contemporary Asian, Australian and Indigenous writers.