Eatocracy recently ran a comment-inducing post entitled "Please don't eat in the bathroom." Devna Shukla, an Associate Producer for CNN's AC360°, shares her own tale of stall dining, how it helped her embrace her Indian heritage, and how she'll never do it again.
Growing up in a small town in Ohio, I had no concept of the true meaning of “diversity.” I was the only girl of color in my small private school and among the sea of blonde hair and blue eyes, my ethnic features always stood out.
My first generation interpretation of diversity was that we all had two competing identities: one inside of school (where I was American) and one at home (where I was Indian). I was just as eager to dress up as a Spice Girl for talent shows as I was to wear the traditional salwar kameez to Indian parties.
My two worlds rarely collided. My parents created a bilingual household and made sure to adopt American traditions like Halloween, and Fourth of July parties.
Cousin to the samosa, kachoris are small balls filled with a mixture of mung beans and gram flour. Kachoris were my favorite snack – but they were my favorite 'outside of school' snack. This kachori, a small part of my Indian identity, was supposed to stay outside the playground boundaries – mostly out of fear for making me any more different than I already was.
I saw the kachori and I panicked. I didn’t know what to do – or how to explain this “weird” food to my friends. But then again, I really wanted to eat it. So, as a second grader, I did the only rational thing I could think of doing to satisfy both my taste buds and my internal conflict: I ate it in the bathroom.
Hygiene issues aside, this small, quiet moment has become one of the most shameful moments of my life: Why did I doubt myself, my family, my ancestors, my culture? I could’ve just as easily taken it home in my lunchbox, or stood up for myself against my small-minded friends. It wasn’t my mom’s fault for packing it, but my own fault for not embracing my differences and sharing them with my peers.
Fast forward years later when I moved to New York City and was shocked to find a permanent Indian buffet in every Whole Foods, and a city obsessed with Halal carts.
It struck me that while our country has many obstacles facing us, it seems that we are embracing each ingredient that goes into the melting pot of American culture. I learned such an important lesson from my lunch box, and my kachori.
Today I am proud of both my Indian and American roots. If I could go back, I would tell that little girl in the bathroom to be proud of herself and her culture, and eat that kachori with pride - outside the stall.
When everyone has PB&J and you're toting curry or kimchi to school, kids can be cruel - or curious. Share your tales of alienation and acceptance at the lunch table.