Student’s Upbringing Feeds Her Goal To Fix Food System
Courtesy Michael Tsai | Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 12 April 2016
For as long as she can remember, food has meant so much more than just sustenance to Annie Oh.
As a child growing up on Guam, Oh enjoyed coconuts, bananas, mangoes and other picked-at-perfection fruits and vegetables grown in her father’s meticulously kept garden.
Thus she learned that food is delicious, yes, but it can also be beautiful, particularly when it is the product of such care and attention.
Oh’s parents, Yeong Joo Whang and Chung Yol Oh, emigrated to Guam from Korea seeking better opportunities for their family. Oh and her sisters Jennie and Ashley watched as the couple worked long hours seven days a week to build a tour company.
“The one way they had of showing their love was through food,” Oh said. “They would buy us nice imported foods, take us to nice restaurants or prepare delicious meals for us.”
The meals also served as an introduction to other cultures, Oh said.
“They didn’t limit us to American and Korean food,” Oh said. “We ate Chinese, Thai — food from a lot of different countries. That opened my eyes about how food can teach you about other cultures and their histories.”
Four years ago the family moved to Honolulu, where Oh’s parents started a successful tour company.
Homesick and still adjusting to life in a city of a million people, Oh found a comfortable, nurturing environment at Sacred Hearts Academy, where she was encouraged to supplement her growing interest in cooking and baking with research into where food comes from. She was sobered by what she learned about industrialized agriculture, the environmental impact of animal farming, and an American food system that creates such distance between farm and table.
Last summer Oh enrolled in a Sustainable Summer organic farming program in Ecuador. Over the course of four weeks, she and other teenagers were introduced to the principles of permaculture and trained in the basics of sustainable agriculture, which integrates eco-friendly landscaping, food production and social engagement.
“I was impressed by how everybody pitched in,” Oh said. “That’s a really important concept in that type of agriculture.”
Oh’s evolving food consciousness has manifested in her decision to adopt a vegan diet. It is also evident in the food blog she started a couple of years ago at her mother’s suggestion.
Getfatnfab.com offers a glimpse into what Oh calls her “food-centric world,” combining artful photographs of her latest epicurean indulgences and a growing archive of vegan dishes and recipes. Vegan kim chee mugwort sujebi, anyone?
After graduating this spring, Oh will attend Tufts University in Massachusetts, where she intends to study environmental science and nutrition.
“I’d like to one day help fix the U.S. food system,” she said.