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“All We Do is Eat”: Filipino, Food, and Family

“All We Do is Eat”: Filipino, Food, and Family

Studies say there are five love language types in the world: words of affirmation, acts of service, gift receiving, quality time, and physical touch. Each language expresses a way of love; a way one can appreciate and reciprocate their feelings towards the other. It’s a beautiful thing to witness, whether it is between lovers, friends, family, or even strangers on the street. 

However, I believe there is a lot more to be said about the unspoken sixth love language: the act of sharing food.

My cousin once said, “All we do is eat.” She was not wrong; most of our time together is spent cooking food and eating. Or if we are galavanting out and about, finding a good spot for all of us to sit and chow down. 

I never saw it as a problem since I love food. 

When I was younger and someone outside my family and culture would invite me over for dinner, I never really understood what that meant. For me, dinner at my house meant coming home at different times and eating whenever we felt hungry. There was never a set time of day when the whole family would sit down and eat; you would find your way to the table whenever it was necessary for you and eat what was already cooked and laid out.

Our table would be decorated with dishes from different times of the day, sitting in mismatched dishes and waiting for when everyone was ready to dig in. There was never just set of food for all to share; we picked at what we wanted and left whatever we thought someone else would be interested in finishing or eating later. Our plates would be filled with a little bit of everything – two sweet sausages or sliced spam from breakfast, cooked eggplant from lunch, fried fish from dinner, and a scoop of rice on the side. 

Coming from a big Filipino family, I was taught that food should never be an issue in our household. Our family would welcome anyone who walked through their doors with open arms and a plate made for them, saying “Come eat” without hesitation. I never learned the Filipino language despite my parents and grandparents coming from the mainland, but I learned to understand the various food-related phrases that was spoken by my elders’ tongues. It was common ground to at least know that much, even if we each spoke different languages and dialects at the table. 

I grew up in a household that did not prioritize saying “I love you” out loud or showing physical affection unless you were blessing your elder with a “mano po” or your aunties/lolas were pulling you in to give you a hug and “sniffing kiss”. Instead, they showed affection in their actions, family members offering continuously offering more food despite saying we were full. I knew I was loved when my family would say to me, “Come eat; I made your favorite.” 

More often, we lose our connections to our past generations by the different ideologies we hold. Asian-Americans, specifically Filipinos, struggle to find the balance between the two clashing cultures, often losing themselves in the process of trying to stay as a family unit without offending the other. Our ways of being able to communicate only partially translate to what is trying to be said, so we misinterpret, misinform, and misjudge, which ultimately leads to misunderstandings and missed moments with one another. Sometimes, we end up hyper-focused on teaching the older generation the new way when we must remember that the new way is not always the right way. We forget that despite how hard it is for us to communicate to them about our worries, pains, and health, it is just as hard for them to share the same. 

Regardless of the inter-generations that come and go through the household, and the hardships that may come from all the conflict due to our differences, we always find ourselves still being offered a plate during a meal. And when our cousins, aunties, and uncles would come over to visit, the table would be decorated with dishes cooked by different family members and set up for anyone to take whenever they felt hungry. 

It was here that eating food with family was more than just a simple meal – it was the gossip between the aunties with their coffee, the jokes between the cousins you have not seen in a while, and the drunk karaoke songs between the uncles who would sing to their heart’s content. It was here that food meant taking time to be with each other, and it was here that we found ourselves learning more about what love means within our family. 

It was here that we learned about our values and traditions cooked inside the recipes passed down from our mothers and grandmothers, their own twists and lessons engraved inside the mismatched dishes on the table. It was here we learned that love meant understanding one’s emotions in the food, finding their devotion and affection in the time it took to know our likes and dislikes, and cooking it repeatedly until it tasted like home. It was here I felt the warmth from the freshly cooked meals going through the plates and onto our hands – and in our bellies – and letting the heat embrace us with all the love, thought, and care that was put into it.

It was here we learned that you did not need to speak the same language, the same dialect, or even the same words in order to communicate your love to one another. You simply showed love by taking a plate, piling it up, and simply enjoying your family’s food. 

There are five love languages that we share to express and reciprocate our love for one another, but my favorite one of all will always be, “Come eat; I made your favorite.”

Dedicated to my cousins who shower me with their love language every time we eat together

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