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Korean Child Adjusts to Foreign Diet
by Daniel Gray
My “Gotcha-Day” was July 12th 1985 and when I arrived in JFK Airport in New York I was already 5 years old. For about 5 months prior to my arrival I was living in an orphanage. When I arrived I was skinny, but not overly so (I had regular meals in the orphanage). The only major medical problem I had was that I had a mouth full of cavities. This was mainly due to all of the snacks and sweets the orphanage would regularly feed us for birthday and going away parties.
Now having grown up in Korea I had a Korean palate and a body that was used to a Korean way of eating. In Korea, rice is the central part of the meal and the side-dishes, meat, and soups accompany this staple. If a person is still hungry after eating everything, they will have an extra order of rice rather than extra meat or vegetables. Desserts are not common and meals usually conclude with fruit or a sour ginger-flavored punch. Milk was not commonly consumed and I don’t recall ever having eaten bread before my arrival in America. Oh, and kimchi; yes, kimchi is eaten at every meal. This sour and spicy pickled vegetable dish is considered a palate cleanser-especially after eating something greasy like grilled pork belly and a way to balance something very bland like rice.
In America, none of these dishes were available so I often had to adjust to the diet of my new homeland and find substitutes. I loved salads at meals and often would have 2 or 3 bowls topped with a vinegar-based dressing such as red wine vinaigrette or my favorite: Catalina dressing. Later on, when tabasco sauce became a common condiment in our house, I would drip tabasco and lemon juice on my salads. Actually, now that I think about it, condiments were the way that I was able to adjust to most food we would eat at our house or at restaurants. I would pour soy sauce, siracha (Vietnamese pepper paste), mustard, horseradish, and salsa on most of my foods. I abhorred mayonnaise and cream based sauces when I was young but I was fine with sour creams and yogurt (I believe this is because of the lactobacteria present in these foods).
Milk was a major problem for me for I was lactose intolerant. However, I grew up in an era where every child was to drink milk at lunch and at dinner. After drinking milk, I would get an upset stomach and I would feel bloated for hours. This was especially bad in the mornings because I would then have to ride a bus to school. There were even days that I would get car sick and have to ask the bus driver to pull over. I still had to drink milk though. Later I discovered that chocolate milk would not upset my stomach as much, so I would drink chocolate milk almost at every meal.
Some cheeses would upset my stomach as well, but I was typically fine with cheddar cheese. I particular liked pizza from a local pizzeria named Grottos because (I would discover this years later) they mixed cheddar and mozzarella cheese.
Chocolate was one western food that I often overindulged in. When I was in the orphanage I remember seeing advertisements for Hershey’s chocolate yet I could never afford to have it. Coca-cola and bananas were other foods I always wished to have as a child. I remember hoarding coca-colas and chocolate bars in my room as a kid.
Growing up with a foreign diet made me adjust to foods of my new home. It wasn’t that I was picky, I was just in tune with my body and I adjusted foods to match my palate. Later as the years passed, I was able to adjust to most of the foods I couldn’t eat during my youth. This led to me gaining quite a bit of weight. I also developed a severe case of eczema on the bottom of my feet and on my fingertips. I tried to treat the eczema with a number of different treatments such as cortisone creams, light treatment and even homeopathy. It eventually forced me to leave my profession as a cook and I left for Korea to learn about my culture and with the hopes of meeting my birthmother.
The interesting development was that after about 6 months in Korea on a mainly Korean diet I lost almost 30 pounds and my eczema almost completely disappeared. I don’t have any idea why that is but maybe my body is still used to a rice-based, Korean diet. As for the eczema, a dermatologist, Dr. Clay Cockerell, told me that environmental factors may have caused the skin condition and changing locations can often allow the body to cure itself.
In conclusion, you should study the types of food for which your adopted child might have preferences-it may go beyond just being picky. Also, a trip to the child’s homeland might just reveal new ways of eating that might benefit the entire family.
Daniel Gray is a Korean adoptee who returned to Korea in 2005 because he wanted to try and find his birth mother and to learn about Korean culture. He started a restaurant review blog in 2007, www.seouleats.com, that became a local and international hit. He now is co-owner of O’ngo Food Communications (www.ongofood.com), which is a culinary tourism and consulting company that offers Korean cooking classes and restaurant tours to travelers. His food tours and cooking classes are ranked as one of the top attractions in Seoul.
Click here to read more about the Korean diet and to see a video about a family who integrates Korean foods into their children’s diets: http://adoptionnutrition.org/nutrition-by-country/korea/.
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