I am privileged to live in one of the best countries in the world and to not have to worry about my next meal. This past summer, however, I found myself lost and anxious when exploring my food options. For two months, embarked on a research internship at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, China. I worked in the University’s Neural Engineering Laboratory on functional MRI data analysis for stroke rehabilitation. I also assisted with a study relating to the neural analysis of long-term meditation practices in Tibetan monks.
Before my internship, I was so overcome with anticipation about working at a prestigious university under world-renown supervisors that I overlooked some of the necessities that I would need to thrive. I have a plethora of food allergies which include nuts, sesame, and soy – essential ingredients in Chinese cuisine. Needless to say, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs crossed my mind every day because access to safe food was correlated with my ability to appreciate the academia I was diving into or the cultural relics I was exploring. Although I tried my best to communicate, the concept of allergies is not always understood in international settings. This was one of the many realizations that I had where I caught myself assuming a certain knowledge base and mindset of the people that I interacted with.
This being said, food is also associated with some of the best memories I have of the trip. Indulging in Shanghai’s legendary soup dumpling, the Xiao Long Bao, tasting authentic Peking Duck in Beijing, and visiting Xi’an’s famous street of food stalls will forever make me sentimental.
On one hand, I recognize my privilege as I actively made a choice to enter the environment I was in. At the same time, I am thankful for experiencing food-related anxiety as it provides me
with new perspectives about the psychological implications and sensitivities associated with eating. Often times when we are immersed in our daily routines, we overlook our basic needs; only when we are faced with new and uncertain situations do we give them a second thought.