Not Everyone Eats The Same Things

Su Chen Li, 82

Immigrated from Taipei, Taiwan

"Overall, I would say Americans eat, quantity wise, per person, very much."

Anna K.

Su Chen Li

December 16, 2019

It’s always very easy to listen to my grandma, Su Chen Li, tell her stories. My grandma is a Taiwanese immigrant, now a retired biochemist, who immigrated to the U.S. when she was just 26 years old to earn her PhD. She now lives in New Orleans, Louisiana and explains that one of the biggest changes for her when coming to the U.S. was the food. 

She remembers her first day, when one of her classmates volunteered to take her in for a few days. Recalling her breakfast of a grapefruit, she says, “I was shocked. In Taiwan, if we ate something like that, my mother would spank me.” Her typical breakfast in Taiwan were certain kinds of foods like rice and porridge. When I asked her why she wasn’t allowed to eat fruits for breakfast, she responded, “Oh, I don’t know, it’s just a stupid custom.”

Her next meal was lunch and her friend handed her a sandwich. She remembers asking, “What’s that? Sandwich?” She opened it up and there was meat and raw vegetables inside. Looking back, she says, “In Taiwan, we never, ever had vegetables without cooking them. Of course, I was scared but I ate it anyways.” She explained how in Taiwan they use human waste to grow vegetables, so it is impossible to eat raw veggies without cooking them.

A big theme that came up while I was talking to her was that most of the food she ate was defined by the amount of money she made. Tickets to the U.S. were around $600, so she spent most of her savings traveling here. Her salary, at that time, was $50 per month. This is not much money to survive off, so she would eat the cheapest thing she could find. “I ate lots of noodles. Tons of noodles and I bought chicken neck. I don’t know how many years I ate that.”

When I asked her what she thought of the American diet, she responded, “Overall, I would say Americans eat, quantity wise, per person, very much. Much more than oriental.” New foods she has tried, include Mexican food, Indian food, and salads, sandwiches, and fried foods. Her favorite American food that she had not tried in Taiwan is cheese. She explains that her experience has been amazing, she has learned so much, and her life would not be anywhere near what it is today if she hadn’t immigrated to the United States.