Stories

Bento Box in the Heartland: Linda Furiya Shares Memories of Food and Family

In Bento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America, author Linda Furiya chronicles the details of her childhood, growing up in the only Japanese family in Versailles, Indiana. In this “food memoir,” memories of both food and family are intertwined to create a poignant and painful narrative of the author’s past in the Midwest during the 1960s.

Brought together through an arranged marriage, Furiya’s parents recognized early on the importance of traditional Japanese cooking and a meal shared at the family table. Even when Asian markets were scarce and special trips had to be made to obtain precious ingredients like miso paste, tofu, and dried seaweed, her parents remained committed to the Japanese dishes that nourished both their bodies and souls and kept alive their connection to their Japanese roots. The dinner table was more than a place where the family shared a meal; it was where stories of the Japanese and her parents’ families were imparted to the author and her two brothers.

Dealing with her Asian identity outside of her home, however, was a constant struggle. Children at school teased her for being different, making her so self-conscious that she even resorted to eating the onigiri (rice balls) that her mother had packed in her lunch in the school's bathroom stalls. As Furiya states in her book, “It took many years, and moving many miles away from Versailles, Indiana, before I felt an inkling of pride in my Asian identity. It would be decades before I got to the point where I believed that I was educating people through my difference, rather than revealing a weakness.”

Bento Box in the Heartland is not only unique in the perspective that it provides but also in its format. A number of her family’s favorite recipes are provided at the end of the chapters in which these dishes are mentioned. In an interview with the Japanese American National Museum, Furiya discussed food as the central theme of her memoir. She commented, “I enjoy references to food when I read books, the descriptions and settings. I think food is a universal subject, one that everyone loves to discuss in some respect whether or not they know how to cook.”

Today, more of Linda Furiya’s culinary interests and insights are shared through her work as a food writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. The format of her articles is similar to that of her book—collections of both memories and recipes from her life experiences. Readers, hoping to discover more about the author, can look forward to another memoir about Linda Furiya’s years spent in China which is planned for publication in autumn of 2008.

August 2007

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