Meandering Thoughts on Dunkaroos and Cultural Identity

By Simon Yau

Food is a nostalgic thing. That’s part of the reason what we eat is usually such an important piece of our cultural identities; your senses can evoke memories which in turn keep traditions alive. The experience of eating is intertwined with where you came from and who you are.

That’s what I learned growing up as a Chinese kid at least. But the differences food plays in cultural identity can be glaring between ethnic kids and North American ones. Food is not a defining part of Canadian culture (said non-patronizingly) but it is an integral part of being Chinese.

In hindsight however, it wasn’t always this way. I found the one phase in life everybody arrived somewhat on equal footing was when it came to snacks, no matter what the hell you ate at home.

Snacks, from my experience, always mean something to a kid. Fruit Roll Ups may not define you as white or brown or black, but if you always ate Fruit Roll Ups at a certain time, during a certain event, or got them from a certain person, then that’s a mini tradition that somewhat defined you… as a kid.

Which, really, is why we love snacks. They remind us of being a kid. And I’m not talking about indulgent snacks here that you might eat at a boring New Years Eve party; I mean like, real kids snack culture stuff, like Teddy Grahams and those snack packs with the red sticks and separate cheese compartment.

My favourite drink in the world is this thing called Yoduly, which is: “a Japanese probiotic milk-like product made by fermenting a mixture of skimmed milk with a special strain of the bacterium Lactobacillus casei Shirota”

I have yet to taste anything in the world that tastes like Yoduly, it’s sweet and somewhat milky and sour. It’s non-carbonated and supposedly good for you and comes packaged in these minuscule plastic bottles in packs of five. They make no sense because you always end up drinking three but on the bright side you feel like a giant. I love them irrationally and drink them occasionally to this day, and even now ripping the foil off a tiny bottle makes me feel like a child again, back when my parents would buy them for me as a treat.

Tangentially, the Japanese get all this love for their sushi and kaiseki but, really, snacks are the best part of Japanese food culture by far. Hong Kong is basically dominated by Japanese snacks as opposed to a domestic snack industry, which perhaps says something about Chinese culture in itself. But I digress.

I guess my point is really, for anyone who doesn’t get why food could be culturally important, or how food can be nostalgic and meaningful to your self-identity, or claim that white people have NO FOOD CULTURE, just think back to when you were a child.

Think about what it meant to get your favourite snacks, why you got them and how it mattered when and how you ate it. Think about how you feel eating that same snack now and the nostalgia you’re stuffing in your mouth in addition to tedious levels of high-fructose corn syrup.

That’s a little bit of what it feels like to grow up in a family and cultural background that considers food an essential part of its ethnic tapestry. The snack industry tells me white folks do understand food culture, they just dismiss its value as they get older, and that’s a bit of a shame. The taste of nostalgia works just as well for foods that remind me of my family present day as it does for foods that remind me of youth soccer games.

Also, everyone should go out and try Yoduly along with other Asian snacks. I don’t know how it’s possible white people have thoroughly embraced eating raw fish and steamed chicken feet but haven’t caught on to Vitasoy or Mochi Cakes yet. This is honestly unfathomable to me and seems like subconciously, white culture just wants to cherry pick and appropriate the “exotic” parts of my culture instead of the actual good parts.


(Photo courtesy Flickr user Shady Sadies)