It has been a week since we have suffered the blow of the American election, and despite the overwhelming push to stay calm and trust in the American system, Things Are Not Going Well. In the first week, we have seen the corners of the Internet previously relegated for Internet trolls summon those trolls to life on the incoming White House staff. We have seen completely unprecedented calls for racism, white nationalism, hate crimes, and the evil foreboding of deportation and concentration camps.
So why am I discussing this with you adorable readers, in your pinks and pastels and frills and laces? Well, because I believe there is something we can do about it. There is something we can all do about it, whether you have access to a fancy computer or simply apps on your smartphone. Okay, here is my advice to you: goshdarnit, make some damn memes.
Okay, stay with me here. This is not just armchair activism at work. I’m going to explain why memes matter.
When I wrote my original article on kawaii subversive, I talked about how pastel and kawaii subversive text wrapped feminism, trans and LGBT rights in the lovable aesthetic trend of kawaii, femme and soft grunge. Did these memes change the world? No. What they did do was foster an environment of tolerance, acceptance, defense and normalization of these topics. They made these topics cool, and trending, and at the very least, got you to share support for your fellow women, sisters and LGBT folk on your blog or Tumblr and Twitter feed. For every person who stands up, the culture shifts a little closer to where we would like it to be.
This election has been changed by Internet culture and millennial involvement more than we ever could have imagined, even since Barack Obama’s run in 2008 and 2012. What we saw in this election cycle is that social media has risen above that of standard journalism. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Tumblr are all at the cutting edge of how we communicate; the President-Elect’s Twitter has been the subject of more news scrutinizing than we ever could have imagined. (Read this article on how Facebook’s algorithms helped promote radicalized spaces during this election.) Fake news sites, hoaxes and false quotes spread with the strong power of the meme, an easily shared and digestible bite of information. I remember seeing false Hillary information about late-term abortions being shared through nothing more than a photograph with text. I remember the deluge of Bernie memes that fired up his base and encouraged a strong millennial presence. Even after the election, Biden/Obama bromance memes soothed the collective American psyche as we all made in-jokes at the expense of our new President-Elect.
Memes can spread information for calling your senators and state representatives. Memes can shame public figures, such as they were used to make sure no one forgets the name and face of rapist Brock Turner. Memes of celebrities and public figures can either lampoon them or celebrate them, cause relatability or distance. If memes gain enough popularity and interest, they can garner national attention, such as Pepe the Frog, or the Ice Bucket Challenge. Millennial communication through memes and social media channels does not make our voices any less valid by our chosen venue.
What we need, and what the kawaii and youthful Internet culture can give, is pro-resistance memes. Where the mainstream media urges normalization and acceptance, we the Internet culture has no such filter. We need memes that call out white supremacy for the Voldemort-come-to-life it is. We need memes to remind everyone that Japanese concentration camps are not the model for America moving forward. We need memes that speak out against hate crimes. We need memes not to accept the normalization of a corrupt president and Nazi and KKK platform in our country. We need memes that rally the base, that do not settle for complacency, that foster the idea that we can do something, even as the doors of democracy slam shut in our faces.
In looking back on this, what Hillary needed was more memes to change her public perception. Remember Wendy Davis memes after her stunning Texas filibuster to protect women’s healthcare? I wanted floral crowns and Photoshopped Khaleesi dragons for you, Hillary. But let’s focus on the future of what memes can do for the resistance now.
To Donald, the victor, go the memes, in this election. His supporters made countless memes and shareable images to bolster and incite his base to victory. They will continue to make more memes. While the “liberal elite” continues to swap articles and fact-checks, the fascist right will continue to make memes, political cartoons, and images. And I hey, I love articles. They’re a great resource. But they do not have the instant impact given over to memes.
This is not to say we do not have enough anti-Donald memes. He is great meme fodder; the man is the darkest joke we have ever seen. In part, I think gallows humor has much to play here, but we also need to look critically at how the humor surrounding his portrayal has underestimated him. If anything, I think we need fewer anti-Donald memes and more pro-resistance memes. Normalizing Donald as our wacky oh-shucks leader is the most dangerous game we can play. He is not just the idiotic orange cheeto-in-chief; he is a deeply racist, misogynistic leader who is threatening our most basic freedoms and way of life.
And again, why do I appeal to you, the kawaii culture reader? Because the kawaii culture has skin in the game. Kawaii culture has always been a place of diversity, religious, ethnic, racial and LGBT and gender fluidity alike. We have always said, from the words of Novala Takemoto, that lolita fashion is a princess with the soul of a punk. Punk is a prime example of how aesthetic was used to make a political statement in previous decades. Fashion has power because we live our lives in it; it and aesthetic encapsulates us as fish to water. Lolita fashion has always stood against the patriarchy, to make a statement of who we are, despite what society tells us to be. It is time to put our fashion and aesthetic where our mouths are.
This doesn’t just apply to sweet and kawaii fashion lovers. I appeal to all Internet youth cultures to flood the social media outlets with memes encouraging protesting and resistance. If you are a Harry Potter fan, make memes. If you are an anime fan, make memes. If you are pastel, grunge, Dr. Who, Supernatural, neogoth, vaporwave, make memes in whatever aesthetic you prefer. If you cannot protest, you can choose to network by sharing information and spirit and support across social media. Even if you are not American, if you are against fascism and racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia and hatred in all its forms, you can make memes. We do not need to manufacture fake news to garner support; the real news is dark enough. Quote your favorite activists and journalists. Quote real statistics. The truth is on our side. Love still trumps hate.
I am going to be working on creating #KawaiiResistance memes and concentrating them on a Tumblr and Facebook page, and I am accepting submissions, but I also encourage you to create resistance memes of any aesthetic and share them across all social media platforms. This blog has always stood for positivity, personal empowerment of women and girls through kawaii aesthetic, and it will continue to face the onslaught against these freedoms and its intersectional marginalized groups without ever. backing. down. If you would like to collaborate on this issue further, feel free to contact me on my Twitter @victoriasuzanne or by private message on the Parfait Doll Facebook fanpage.
In the aftermath of the American presidential election and the dark days that lie ahead, I am here to do what I do best: write. As always, I will focus on survival. My entire life has been about survival, whether minute to minute or week to week. I have spent years under the knowledge that every good day I am given is a gift. And now, I hope I can impart some of this wisdom I have hard-won and wrested from my hardships – chiefly, my chronic disease – onto you.
A friend of mine, even before the election die was cast, was going through a pretty tough time. She is, without a doubt, one of the sweetest people I know. Incarnate angel has never been a truer description, and I am proud to symbolically refer to her as my ‘other mother’. She has stood by me when I could do little more than watch the pattern of the sunlight fall across the drapes in my living room day by day. I hope, too, that I can give her a little of what she has given me.
Anyway, she is having it a tough right now – medical, family, the works. Over tea the other day, I hear her talking to her best friend, my mom. The weight of her struggles gray her voice over the speaker. After an outpouring of emotion, there is a brief pause in which both she and my mom exhale. Mom is mustering up some kind of pep talk. “Well,” she says finally after a deep breath, “You just gotta keep sloggin’ through.”
My ears prick up over my coffee cup. I disagree.
“No. You do not slog through.”
She laughs bleakly.
“What should I do, prance? I’ll get my tutu.”
“No,” I said. “You won’t prance. You will have bad days, yes. It will be awful, and hard, and you’ll wonder if you can do it for even one more day. You’ll wonder if you can even continue being in this body, in this time and space, for another minute. But that’s not all that will happen.”
The white noise of a heart listening over the fuzz of a speakerphone.
“There will be bad jokes. There will be good cups of tea, and there will be sunny spots on kitchen faucets. You will pet dogs on the street. You will be with the people you love. The will be songs you like on the radio. You’ll do your best, and they will be hard days, but in each hard day there will be a few brief moments to savor. It’s up to you to hold onto them tight, and never let go. Those are the moments you are fighting for.”
When I was in the hospital, growing up as a kid, I collected my share of horror stories. I met a little four year old girl who had been operated on so many times she no longer had a belly button. I have gotten such bad news from a quavering attendant doctor that I have screamed and cried for him to get the hell out while I mourned my broken body. I have felt a complete physical paralysis from a bad drug cocktail, late at night, while my bedmates groaned and shrieked around me. American Horror Story has nothing on my childhood.
But in the deepest pit of places, places I try to scrub from my mind, even there I had my tiny golden moments. Stupid jokes with my dad over piped-in hospital reality TV. Wheelchair rides from my big sister up and down the corridors, even more treasured now that she’s no longer with us. Praying with my little sister in the thick silence of a hospital atrium studded with stargazer lilies. Microwaved tea straight from the warm hands of my mother.
This is not to downplay or trivialize the very real fears and pain we, the marginalized of the United States, feel right now as we look straight into the faces of our friends, neighbors and family and realize they do not see us as quite as human as they are. The hate crimes against the people I love and cherish are already here. But if we are to survive this, it will not just be on blood and fire in the belly.
We will need music more than ever. We will need art more than ever. We will need prayer, in whatever way you choose, more than ever. We will need, in the face of so much hate, kindness. We will still need those tiny moments to feed the softness inside us, the very thing we protect. Love. Equality. Faith.
Tomorrow the sun will rise on this world again and you will have a choice. Be angry. Be grieving. Be fighting. And through that grief, find those tiny moments throughout your day. They are there, buried in even the darkest places. Make those moments for others. Speak with more love to the people we care about. Speak with more kindness to the strangers next door. If you can genuinely ask someone how they are, and really listen to the answer; and if you have a spare dollar, give it.
There is no election inside your heart.
Do not slog, America. The tutu is optional, but if you like, I’m happy to lend you one of mine.
There is magic here, in the woods. The settlers thought it was the Devil, but there is nothing darker than humans can imagine. Though that may be very dark indeed. For those who know, who dare, who will, and who would be silent, you can hear the many voices of the trees.
This photoshoot features a few things near to my heart – one, the autumn leaves and New England landscape I grew up in, marked still by the rumors of witchcraft and spirits since its early colonial days – and two, my own folk magic heritage. This broom was actually my very first broom as a little beginner witch, over ten years ago now. I remember placing it on the front porch Halloween night and asking it to make friends with the local sprites and goblins, or symbolically sweeping casting glitter from my circles. It has been my stalwart companion beside the firestones ever since.
Thank you to Xin Pan, my wonderful photographer who happened to be traveling through my hometown on his way back to Brooklyn. His ability to play with the light and colors of a perfect fall morning is certainly a magic of its own.
Have a magical Halloween this year!
Since Halloween is very fast upon us, my article ‘Can I Wear Lolita on Halloween?’ is getting plenty of hits and comments. Upon re-reading it, I realized there was more to the lolita-costume debate than there was a few years ago. In the past, I said that one cannot dress ‘as a lolita’ for Halloween, anymore than one can dress ‘as a schoolgirl’, for example, because it is a fashion, not a costume. But things have changed since 2012 (when I wrote on this topic last!) and this Halloween, in 2016, I have a new edict for you.
Wear whatever you like this Halloween.
Why the change of heart? Well, in a microculture like ours, a lot can change in four or five years. The world of lolita culture and fashion, our state-of-the-frilly-union, so to speak, is no longer what it was. We used to want mainstream acceptance in the way American goth has had acceptance – some eye-rolling, a little weirdness, but accepted like a quirky second cousin you really can’t do anything about. I’m sure the classic American goths raised on Trash and Vaudeville will have their own input, but in general, no one is confused by goth anymore. There’s Abby on NCIS, everyone has tried out black lipstick, and Doc Martens are made in kiddie sizes. As the goth generation grew up, it settled in.
This was what, I think, we wanted as a community for lolita fashion. No more weird cat calls on the train, no more strangers saying they ‘just HAVE to ask’, or if there was a play or circus in town. Lolita fashion could not be diluted! We would cry out. The public cannot get the wrong idea if we are to finally show our culture to the mainstream. There could be no weird costume portrayals at Halloween, labeled ‘Harajookoo girl’ or ‘Living Dead Dolly’. Some even latched onto the ‘culture, not costume’ message, which is beyond the pale – the fashion is not at all oppressed in the same way as racial stereotyping, as I stated in the original article.
Something happened since then for lolita fashion that we did not expect, exactly, but now in hindsight seems inevitable. Lolita fashion did not mainstream as we all sometimes would dread back on the old EGL Livejournal days – could you imagine, we would lament, seeing every teenybopper wearing cheap, Hot Topic styled lolita dresses? But that’s not what happened. Lolita fashion did not mainstream. But what did mainstream was kawaii culture. Lolita fashion, with its attention to detail, deeply layered culture and guidelines, did not dabble easily. But the general aesthetic of kawaii, brought on the wings of all the subgenres we had never imagined – pastel grunge, vaporwave, living doll style (Is that a thing? How do you do, fellow kids?), and the endless, endless flower crowns for basically everyone. I went into my local Claire’s yesterday, and it looked like Tumblr had regurgitated a tween paradise of cute trends, everything from Pusheen iPhone cases to pastel-and-pentacle chokers for any budding pastel goth. At Hot Topic, gone were the scenester clothes of my day, replaced with punk-ish Disney and Totoro t-shirts. What we had pioneered and considered fringe, when Anime Club showed Miyazaki films, it was all finally a household name. Much like geeks, who consider themselves outside pop culture, but are actually at the heart of it – who hasn’t seen Suicide Squad or Star Wars or Star Trek now? – kawaii has become digestible.
Besides the normalization of kawaii culture, another trend once considered weird has become mainstream – cosplay. When I was a teenager, cosplay was still barely a thing. I remember having delusions of making a Yu-Gi-Oh cosplay for the movie premier at twelve year old out of white duct-tape (don’t judge, we’re all young once). Now there’s Heroes of Cosplay. Now you can buy quality cosplays on the Internet, and read dozens of tutorials. Costumes are no longer just for Halloween. Costumes are not necessarily the over-priced, scratchy, flammable things they used to be when your only choice was going in your dad’s old clothes or shopping at your big box pop-up Halloween store. Costume once meant cheap, poorly constructed plaything, a connotation we wanted to stay far away from. Today, the line between costume and fashion had blurred. And isn’t that a good thing? The world of fashion is expanding to ever more fantastical heights without the trappings of the word ‘costumey’, looking down its nose on the unusual.
So what does this mean for lolita fashion on Halloween? It means the pond is too big to worry anymore. There is no lolita fashion homeland to protect. The styles of Japan, once so rigid, have burst into a myriad rainbow of colors and styles in the East and West both. It has blossomed here overseas in ways we would never have dreamed of when all we had were Gothic & Lolita street snaps. Lolita fashion is not dead. But lolita fashion has reincarnated to the world at large.
In short – dress up on Halloween. Wear pastels, or darks, or jewel tones, with your Baby the Stars Shine Bright bunny ears if you like, (like Kate Beckinsale, who sources tell me hit up BABY NYC a few weeks ago!), or with your handmade unicorn horn, or with the mermaid scale tights you got from Hot Topic. Wear your best lolita dress, maybe with a horror mask, or fake blood dripping from your chin, or a galaxy freckling your face. It’s a night for magic, and mischief, and being whoever you want to be. Save the serious and sacred for November 1st.
Celebrate Halloween by wearing… Anything. You. Like.
Oh, and PS – Halloween themed lolita and kawaii fashion? Not only perfectly acceptable, hello, it is CUTER THAN EVER. Long live witch lolita! I mean, check out the cuties above. Slay, ladies – on the runway, and an errant vampires you might run into!
I am so excited to introduce you all to a new indie designer I met at the convention this weekend! I spent all weekend chasing after my dream of owning these pink, fluffy angel wings! After frothing at the mouth from backstage, I dropped off my business card with one of the Crystal Isis associates and continued glimpsing them from afar during the weekend. Finally on Sunday the designer (Crystal Isis herself! and yes, like me, that is her real name!) caught up with me, plucked these heart-shaped wings off her head, and handed them to me. I died.
When I managed to resurrect myself from the fashion-dead, I hurried home to write a review and spotlight of her label to introduce my readership to! So in sum: readers, meet all your pastel, neo-goddess aesthetic needs.
I was so excited to try this fascinator out with a lolita style this week, so I paired it with my Innocent World powder pink Creampuff dress and my rose Triple Fortune tights. Here’s the finished look:
This hairpiece can remind me of a very vintage feel when viewed from the front, or a more whimsical style when tipped forward to show off the heart-shaped pinions and flight feathers. It actually reminds me most of the lovely centaurs from Fantasia, when doves curl up on among their plush tresses. Another reason this appealed to me was my general winter aesthetic this year, which so far can be summed up with just the word ‘fluffy’ (I’m not apologizing for this phone case, like, ever. Here’s some more fluffy tech on velvetcaviar.com, if you gotta have your fluff.)
Here’s a closeup of the design, both from the front and from an angle. I tried my best to bring as much pinkness to this outfit as possible, mostly by piling on pink accessories to match.
Here’s a group shot of the Crystal Isis models post fashion show, to illustrate their wide range of style.
And yes here’s a mini cameo of the designer and me at the moment she presented me with these angel wings! I’m way too excited in this photo, haha. Make sure you check out the Crystal Isis Facebook page and Etsy shop to see what new fantasy designs she’s coming up with next!
(And yes, she’s also making the beautiful crescent moon chokers she’s wearing in this photo! I definitely need one of those next.)
With my new bent on food-loving lately (remember my intro post about one of my favorite homemade recipes for Korean root beer chili?) I thought I would start chronicling my favorite cute and delicious eats! I’m lucky enough to have plenty to choose from on the streets of New York City, home of the rainbow bagel and alligator pizza – and I love hunting down unique foods from every borough. ‘Mokbang’ is the Korean buzzword that means ‘eating broadcast’ – a very popular trend right now in Korea! Whether you like hearing about foods to try them yourself, or just like seeing a good snack in progress – I hope you enjoy my future cute mokbang adventures! Here’s some of the cute things I loved in the city lately.
Cotton Candy Bubble Tea Milkshakes
Petrina of famed Lolita and the City and I had a few hours to kill before my most recent fashion show, so we stopped at Vivi Bubble Tea in the Lower East Side. You may have seen their signature bubble teas on Insider Food – a very sweet, pastel drink topped with cookies & cream ice cream and a huge swirl of cotton candy, complete with the chewy pearls of tapioca we love. The waitress thought it was such a hot day, she added a little ice cold nitrogen to our drinks, creating this cool ethereal fog effect!
(Psst: if you hashtag them on social media, the next time you come in for your second cotton candy boba, it’s 50% off. Winner.)
Goldfish Ice Cream – Korean Taiyaki
While this is more a convenience snack than an all-out gourmand creation, it’s sometimes the simplest convenience foods we love most. Taiyaki – a classic Asian treat based on a fish-shaped waffle mold filled with red bean – is enjoying its moment in the foodie limelight with the opening of Taiyaki NYC, who brought the fish shaped ice cream cone to life for New Yorkers. In Korean, we call this beungeubbang (a tongue-twister, I know), which translates to ‘goldfish bread’. I picked up this on-the-go version at my favorite Korean grocery, Hmart.
Instead of red bean, this version has a strawberry jam filling paired with silky vanilla ice cream, a lot like an ice cream sandwich. The fish itself tastes just like a chewy ice cream cone.
What other cute foods do you want to see, maybe more snacks from Japan and Korea? I really want to try a lot of tasty Korean sweets soon!
Picture it: New York City, 2016, a Chelsea pier studio rooftop patio. There’s an open bar serving unremarkable rose, and cigarettes are starting to light the twilight like urban fireflies. The woman sitting next to me is nursing her umpteenth plastic cup of wine, and she waves her cigarette like she’s saging the air in my direction. “So,” she says, in a voice I’ve heard a million times, “I like, love your getup! What is this, like, about?” I’m wearing a lavender and gold, multi-frilled dress, with a glittered veil hanging from a large bejeweled headbow. For once, this lady was the only one to not get the picture. Far from costume, my dress was something much more.
Lolita fashion has always been on the edges of the “real fashion world”, a fact never truer than during New York Fashion Week. While every designer has their day across the city, in fashion shows large and small, lolita fashion was historically left out of the spectacle. Even when we, the Lolitas of New York City, managed to bring a contingent to the front rows, we had yet to see any of our favorite styles and series grace the physical runways. That all changed Sunday when we finally saw lolita fashion in its rightful place on the catwalk. Under the umbrella headline of China Fashion Collective, four Chinese designers, Krad Lanrete, Soufflesong, BMOST, and Lolitimes, displayed various lolita, vintage, and Asian-inspired fashion lines.
I was lucky enough to be asked to attend as a VIP lolita fashion blogger by Chinese-American press Han Media, and loved seeing the experimental and couture designs brought to life in trailing, lacy splendor on the runway. Here’s what I wore to NYFW:
I wanted to hit that high couture note in my coordinate, and for me this means ballgowns done in lolita proportions. This dress and bow are both by Baby the Stars Shine Bright, a Japanese designer I would love to see given their proper due on the billings of NYFW.
What I personally enjoyed most was that lolita fashion was finally recognized for what it always has been: a true art form of thread and fabric, beyond the realm of costume and firmly in the land of fashion, to be revered alongside the rest of the fashion world despite its niche market. The innovation of the designers married the past and future of both Western and Eastern styles. There were traditional Chinese closures and high collars mixed with the lines and details of Victorian and Edwardian eras; brush-stroke bamboo and butterflies found their place with perfectly coiled ribbons and cage-structured skirts.
The designers of the China Fashion Collective take their applause to not only the watchers of NYFW, but the livestreams of the world.
Check out the full photo gallery of runway shots below the jump!
Read the rest of this entry »
Showing off your cult fandoms and kawaii style has never been easier or more wearable with this latest Insta-popular trend: enamel pins. Small enough to fit on any jacket or bag, and designed by kawaii nerds for kawaii nerds, there is most definitely at least one pin that will tickle your fancy.
While some people only have one or two, the most popular trend is to amass a collection – hopefully tagging each individual maker so everyone can grab one of their favorites! The hunt is part of the fun: each one is uniquely designed by small artists, and there is no one-stop-shop for all your enamel pin needs. I picked up my first pin at Planet Cute in Brooklyn – pink text that reads simply ‘kawaii’. You can scour the Instagram hashtags for ‘#enamelpins’ or ‘#pingame’ to find ones you like, or search enamel pins on Etsy. Use them to show off your favorite movie or TV show (check out Barb here from Stranger Things… snap her up here, she’s limited edition!) or just, y’know, cats dressed as donuts and macarons. And best of all, they’re pretty affordable, so feel free to start an enamel-pin harem without breaking the piggy. Here’s nine more of our favorites!
L to R – 1: Pink Crystal Cluster; 2: Birth Control; 3: You Must Be a Mermaid; 4: Bye Felicia; 5: Team Mystic (best team sorry everyone! ;) But they do make Valor and Instinct as well); 6: Candy Unicorn; 7: Clever Girl Jurassic Park; 8: Polly Pocket; 9: Kawaii Babe
Do you have a pin collection already, or a favorite pin shop? Are you designing enamel goodies into the wee hours of the night? Leave us a comment!
After Parfaitdoll.com’s spotlight on Bustle.com for plus-size lolita fashion (most notably for this article interviewing two plus-size lolita cuties! Take a read if you missed it!) I got to thinking about body acceptance in lolita fashion, and other kawaii styles. Body acceptance is something we need to talk about more as fashionistas – of every stripe and style.
Fashion is a double-edged sword of self-expression. On the one hand, there is a magic to becoming your own art canvas and realizing your daydreams on your own skin and body. You can become anyone you can imagine – a princess, a pirate, a CEO, a dystopian punk fairy, and everywhere in between. On the other hand, using your own body for art can leave you feeling frustrated when the image you created can’t match your reality. No matter how creative we are, some things will not change no matter how many times we go shopping or alter thrift store finds.
And lolita fashion, which is even more expressive and dramatic than its mainstream counterparts, makes this doubly true. We are formed on the basis of a specific shared dream, the haunting fairy-tale apparition of femininity. This idea is based on a mishmash of Victorian beauty ideals, Asian beauty ideals, and the evolving new dreams and trends of modern fashion, like kawaii and uljjang styles. And with all that pressure, we really need to take a look at not just who we want to be, but who we really are.
We are not talking about just fat acceptance or thin privilege or the myriad of other words we’ve developed and bandied around for the past several years’ of body talk revolution. We are talking about being comfortable in your skin, now, whether it is changing or stable, no matter its color, shape, weight, capabilities or anomalies. This includes not just being comfortable with what it looks like, but also being comfortable with what it can and cannot do, and what your responsibility is to care for it. Each body is unique, both in its appearance and its hurdles and needs. That’s been a hard lesson for me: that my body will always need more care and consideration than others’. Consider it the introvert of bodies – it will need extra recharging and more sensitive care. It is never going to be okay with all-nighters, crippling hangovers, or the occasional wicked sunburn of careless youth.
For me, body positivity and acceptance has been something I struggled with my whole life. Having a chronic illness and at times restricted medical diet has wrestled a lot out of my control. On dialysis, I had to cope with foreign objects and tubes and other medical body mods. The medications I took to keep me alive bloated my body and filled my abdomen with jelly-like fluid. Steroids could make me physically thin but make me feel puffy and flabby. I remember trying on clothes with the sole attempt of hiding my medical equipment, worried I would make other people feel grossed out or uncomfortable if they glimpsed my bandages or stitches. Here’s the bottom line: no one should feel ashamed of or uncomfortable in their own skin.
Food and I have had a volatile relationship since I was little. As a child, I was a standard picky eater, raised on the blandest of food with its saving grace being a proclivity for whole grains. In my high school and college years I probably subsisted on a nauseating mix of oily instant black coffee and embarrassing instant noodles, the kind that stain your utensils neon yellow. Once I started going to the city and meeting new people, my diet expanded quickly: my favorite foods became big bowls of real Tokyo-style ramen with naruto and steamy balls of takoyaki at karaoke. I had a very rough patch with food trying to maintain a dialysis diet for the past two years, which cuts out dairy, chocolate, whole grains, beans and legumes, and almost anything processed in an effort to curb sodium and phosphorous.
At first I started cooking in an effort to accommodate my extremely narrow diet: I would get obsessed with one dish that fit my parameters and make it over and over as a comfort mechanism. There was a point when I ate almost exclusively avocados and egg whites and rice milk. After my kidney transplant, my relationship with food took another hairpin turn and my diet is mercifully unrestricted. Not having any ‘food rules’ was scary at first: walking into the grocery store felt like going to the zoo with all the tiger cages left open. It took a while for me to relax around food I couldn’t fit into the very small category of organic-unprocessed-dairy-free.
Being able to eat anything I want has opened up my desire to be creative with food. I use it to connect with my boyfriend as we’re both adventurous eaters with similar tastes; and as a way to bring home my love of New York City and Koreatown food to my own backyard. The food I cook now is still mostly dairy-free, but fused with the Korean and Japanese flavors I loved onto my own classic Americana background. The tastes I understood first were the spice and sweetness of gochujang and soy sauce and sriracha, so I fall back on these frequently no matter what I make. Like me, my food fits no one definition, and each dish tells a story of where it came from.
So now, onto my favorite new recipe! My method is usually to start with someone else’s recipe, and then fly by the seat of my pants with flavor and substitutions until I end up with something new. This is my sweet-spicy, smoky-strange Korean Root Beer Chili, in all its secret ingredient glory. You can also make this dish vegan by subbing the chicken stock for vegetable and skipping the beef in favor of a second kind of beans, like kidney beans.
Check the cut for the recipe!