It wasn’t until I took Foods class in high school that I realized so many of my family’s food storage and cooking habits were considered “unsafe.” We always left rice or porridge in the rice cooker overnight. Bone broth soup would never leave the stove until it was finished. According to science, I’d been consuming terrible amounts of bacteria and yet, I’d never had food poisoning from home. Food safety rules, like so much else in the Western world I grew up in, ignore the lived experiences and knowledge of my ancestors. So I wrote this poem, missing the taste of home.
If the doubling time of bacteria spores on white rice
left idling in the cooker is twenty minutes, then I’m a mother
of trillions, rebred every night at the dinner table
with meat velveted so tender nobody
knows the internal temperature
because “thermometers are for white people.”
My tongue whets for the salt sweet linger
of weeks-old stock, umami boiled soybean dark
in the belly of an earth-clay pot. These are the things I love.
The crumbling yolk of a third day tea egg from the bamboo basket,
snow mushroom wisps drowned in rock sugar syrup
like ghosts of who we were in that wide, wide ocean.
But in high school I buttercreamed cakes and roasted hollow chickens
and was taught the fridge as sacred—stainless steel utopia
with a two hour entry limit where stragglers are tossed overboard
just to be safe, the compost plumps with over-sharpened cheese,
whey-wet yogurt best before the weekend, the end pieces of bread
left until fungus buds gorge themselves green.
Last year, the white boy I dated flew to Singapore and saw
mostly the toilet. His stomach is weak, māma laughs. Stuffed
with the privilege of leaving flesh on drumstick bones
when bàba has to find the discount corner in supermarkets.
He rescues the rejects, the intestines, livers, and kidneys
crosshatched into flowers for his oil flame wok,
every organ unfurls in five-spice like it remembers
living. And I promise you this: around our table
we bite bones so clean we could build
a paddle, a raft sinewed blood-tight, we waste nothing
because we have had nothing. Our fingers pressed bladeside,
we scrape mold crusts until we find unscarred flesh
and trust the fire to kill enough for our bodies to do
what they have done for dynasties. Every mouthful
a remembrance. Every swallow, resilience.
Jade Y. Liu is a Chinese-Canadian writer and poet from Vancouver, BC. A recipient of the 2020 George McWhirter Prize in Poetry, she was shortlisted for Arc Poetry Magazine’s 2022 Poem of the Year and won Reader’s Choice in CV2’s 2022 2-Day Poem Contest. She currently studies Law at UBC.