Winter 1999 • Vol. XXI No. 1 Nonfiction |

If You Are What You Eat, Then What Am I?

To belong is to understand the tacit codes of the people you live with.MICHAEL IGNATIEFF, Blood and Belonging I The first time my mother and I open a can of tuna, I am nine years old. We stand in the doorway of the kitchen, in semi-darkness, the can tilted toward daylight. I want to eat what the kids at school eat: bologna, hot dogs, salami—foods my parents find repugnant because they contain pork and meat by-products, crushed bone and hair glued together by chemicals and fat. Although she has never been able to tolerate the smell of fish, my mother buys the tuna, hoping to satisfy my longing for American food. Indians, of course, do not eat such things. The tuna smells fishy, which surprises me because I can't remember anyone's tuna sandwich actually smelling like fish. And the tuna in those sandwiches doesn't look like this, pink and shiny, like an internal organ. In fact, this looks similar to the bad foods my mother doesn't want me to eat. She is silent, holding

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Geeta Kothari

Geeta Kothari is a senior editor at The Kenyon Review. Her essay "If You Are What You Eat, Then What Am I?" is widely taught in universities and has been reprinted in several anthologies, including in Best American Essays. She is the editor of  ‘Did My Mama Like to Dance?’ and Other Stories about Mothers and Daughters, and the author of I Brake for Moose and Other Stories. Her most recent essay, “To the Man who Poisoned My Mother,” was named a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2022. She teaches at the University of Pittsburgh and at Carlow University.

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By Geeta Kothari

To belong is to understand the tacit codes of the people you live with.MICHAEL IGNATIEFF, Blood and Belonging I The first time my mother and I open a can of […]

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