Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Power of Geography-Favorite Foods and Religious Convictions

Kimchi is any one of numerous traditional Korean pickled dishes made of vegetables with varied seasonings

One of the hardest things about living in Korea has been the food. The majority of it truly is foreign. Not just the various mixtures of ingredients or presentation of them but the very ingredients themselves are often completely unknown substances to me. More than once my co-teacher or another Korean will ask me if I like a certain food and the answer more often then not is simply, “I don’t know? What’s in it?” They then describe the dish and it’s ingredients to me and I am still left scratching my head because I don’t know the bulk of the items they listed. It has gotten to the point where I’ve stopped even asking what’s “in” something and instead just eat it and see what I think. Now I can say there is a lot of Korean food , a good deal more then I expected, that I think is just fine but as of yet I still have not eaten anything that I could see myself one day craving. Basically, I have not developed any new favorite foods here.

Now as I was thinking about this I couldn’t help but compare food with religion. Growing up I developed favorite foods based on the foods I was surrounded with. It was impossible for any Korean food to become one of favorite foods because I never had any of it. For all intent and purposes Korean food did not exist for me. And the same was true with religion. I was only exposed to a few religions growing up (variations of Christianity and Judaism) and as such could only pick from one of those which I would believe in. Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and many other religions just like Korean food simply did not exist. Clearly one can only choose a religion that one is exposed to and not surprisingly a majority of humans end up “choosing” to follow the religion they were born into. Your affinity for your specific religion, similar to food, is usually developed early in your life often before you can truly understand why (before you have been taught the right answers as to why) you believe it.

Now many people grow up and their favorite foods change as they are exposed to more things likewise some people change their religions or at least their beliefs become more sophisticated as they try to explain to others, and themselves, why they believe certain things. But at the end of the day few people completely separate themselves from the foods/religions they were born into particularly with religion for unlike food most people do not try new religions once they have picked their favorite and unlike food most religions will not allow you to have multiple favorites.

Also as you grow up you often come to discover that the food you like is not always the same as the food that is good for you and often the things we like the best are in fact bad for us. I would argue that religion is like food that is bad for you. It tastes wonderful; telling you that you are eternally significant, assuaging your fears about death, promising you earthly and heavenly rewards and offering you explanations for the evils in the world (often ones that encourage you to do nothing) but in the end it is not good for you and your ethical/moral growth.

Obviously I’ve taken this analogy a little far but all in fun. The simple fact is that most people’s religious beliefs are what they are simply due to where and when they were born, nothing special or mysterious just simple geography.

Eel Dup Bop is broiled eel atop a bed of sautéed vegetables on rice

Thin Egg Noodles with yellow chives, bean sprouts, mushrooms

Mandu Jungol is spicy, red and hot. It's a large bowl filled with dumplings, zucchini, mushroom, scallion, and udon noodle. Then it is placed atop one of those mini gas ranges and kept bubbling and hot

Octopus and Potatoes

Kimbap is steamed white rice (bap) and various other ingredients, rolled in gim (sheets of dried seaweed)

Ojingeo Bokkeum is spicy stir fried squid

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