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Getting Through: Why cooking is healing for this Detroiter

Courtesy Photo

Need some restorative listening? Look no further. This is Getting Through, a new series where we cover the stories and sounds of how we’re staying grounded during this really challenging moment.

In this installment, we cook a meal with shane bernardo (who uses they and him pronouns and prefers their name lower-case). For bernardo, cooking cultural foods has been a practice to stay grounded during the past few months. bernardo is Filipino, a life-long Detroiter, and uses food as a medium for healing.

There are a lot of things I’ve missed doing this past year. A big one is cooking with other people.

So when shane bernardo suggested we cook a meal together – virtually – I jumped at the opportunity even though it meant another hour of my life spent on Zoom.

[Want to share your own story of how you're getting through? Call us at (734) 408-1753 and leave a message. Click here to find out more.]

We chopped vegetables, chatted, and fried everything up filling our homes miles away from each other with the same smell. We made Ginisang Ampalaya at Hipon. It’s a Filipino dish with shrimp, bitter melon, tomato, and eggs.

I’m excited because it uses bitter melon, which I hated as a kid, but now cook often with pork or tofu. This dish holds memories for bernardo, too.

“It’s a dish that reminds me of coming together with family, sharing stories,” bernardo said.

bernardo remembers eating Ginisang Ampalaya at Hipon after large communal events, like after Mass, where there would be lots of other folks from the Philippine diaspora.

Credit Courtesy Photo
bernardo's Ginisang Ampalaya at Hipon.

That’s the thing about food. It can transport us to another place. For bernardo, that’s part of the reason why food is a healing practice. It’s an idea that’s been instilled in him since he was a kid. At his family’s grocery store on the west side of Detroit, he saw first-hand how important it was to have access to cultural and traditional foods.

“I saw how people of different diasporas were able to connect with one another over a shared sense of struggle, shared identity of being in the diaspora, of feeling displaced,” bernardo said. “These foods helped retain our sense of self help retain our sense of ancestry, retain our sense of identity, retain our relationship to our homelands.”

As part of the diaspora, our cultural foods connect us to where we come from and to the ones who came before us. Food is a way to find home, even when you’re so far away from it.

bernardo now finds home with his mom and younger brother in Detroit. He is a caregiver for both of them. So day-to-day life doesn’t look a lot different than pre-COVID.

bernardo says that when the reality of the pandemic hit him several months in, he turned to cooking Filipino foods for comfort.

“It became a very cathartic practice of re grounding myself in ideas, food-ways and traditions that preceded this feeling of being displaced,” he said.

Displaced. It’s a strong word that I think a lot of us can relate to feeling because of COVID. So many of us feel disconnected, uprooted, and isolated from the world. bernardo says this feeling is familiar. I think it’s familiar to a lot of people in the diaspora.

“Feeling isolated is one that is part of this condition, of being a diasporic person, of having a diasporic identity, of feeling the impact of being displaced off your ancestral lands and pushed into becoming a wage earner and consumer abroad,” bernardo said.

So as they’ve done throughout their life, bernardo turned to food to find place and connection during the pandemic.

“It's a very intentional practice,” bernardo said. “It's a very useful practice and one that I foresee myself using to self soothe, but also continue to reckon with it what it means to be a diasporic person living in the US under a pandemic.”

The practice of cooking and celebrating these cultural foods nourishes our bodies and our spirits. It’s a type of medicine.

illustration of people getting through the pandemic
Credit Paulette Parker / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio

So in our separate homes, bernardo and I got a dose. We finished cooking our Ginisang Ampalaya at Hipon and compared platings. It’s colorful; the pink of the shrimp, the lime green bitter melon, and the burst of red roma tomatoes.

After bernardo shared a short prayer, miles away from each other, under a pandemic two people from the diaspora shared a meal.

Taking my first bite, it was hard not to notice something poetic about sharing this particular dish in this particular moment. The bitterness of the melon, the sweetness of tomato, and the tenderness of the shrimp –an amalgamation of different ingredients, together containing multitudes.

Want to share your own story of how you're getting through? Call us at (734) 408-1753 and leave a message. Click here to find out more.

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Rachel Ishikawa joined Michigan Public in 2020 as a podcast producer. She produced Kids These Days, a limited-run series that launched in the summer of 2020.
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