✍️ Food Ink 14: New Name, a New (Tentative) Aim, and Some Thoughts on Shame

Mar 11, 2022 9:28 pm

(8 minute read)

Hello to all 1,294 of you!

It's been a while (again) since the last newsletter. And my how you've grown. Every month now for the last several months, about a hundred new folks have been finding me and this newsletter. I'm not sure where you've all come from, but I'm glad you're here.

1,497 subscribers is nowhere near the audiences we're used to seeing on the socials, but I'm pretty proud of how this has grown. I like to think that email is a bit more intimate, and I'm pretty protective about who I allow into my inbox so it's a big deal to me that this many of you have let me into yours. That's also part of why my inbox intrusions have been so seldom - because I'm a perfectionist. And because I feel like I'm intruding (more on that later).

With that in mind, I've been thinking a lot about the direction I want to take this humble newsletter. I want to write, and create, and share more frequently. But I'm also afraid of becoming an intrusion. Another nuisance amidst all the noise. The big rule I've learned in the world of email marketing, and marketing in general, is to always provide value. A corollary to that is to make it relevant. And though I'm not marketing anything to you (aside from my ideas and myself I suppose), I take this to heart.

In a way, that's been holding me back. Instead of sharing freely, I've been second-guessing the things I want to share, examining them through a microscope, deeply evaluating whether or not they'll be relevant. Whether or not they add value. Yet, as I've started to put up more stringent filters on my inputs - my read later queue has gone from a backlog of 4,000+ to a more functional FIFO feed (hey alliteration and accounting nerds 🤓) of 98 (a herculean feat given my compulsion towards completionism) - I've begun to recognize the incredible value of curation.

In the four months since the last edition, I've consumed an inordinate amount of content. I'm talking entire seasons of several streaming shows, at least a dozen movies, and countless news articles, scientific research, email newsletters, tweets, Instagram carousels, even TikTok videos. And as powerfully magnetic and addictive social media algorithms are (I'm deep into the woods of the psychology, relationship, dog training, philosophy, neurodivergence, and physical mobility sides of TikTok), I've started to notice how much rubbish I weed through across all mediums to get to the gems. Those little nuggets of insight or wisdom that, when I first find them, feel like game changers. Until they wither away in my brain, buried under massive amounts of new content consumed in search of the next gem.

So, in an effort to better retain and make use of these insights, I've been taking notes, making highlights, rewriting learned ideas in my own words. To take it a step further, and reinforce the learnings and insights, I'm trying to start using those insights, i.e., creating something with them. One simple way I'm going to do that is through this newsletter, consolidating them into a highly curated weekly roundup of what I'm researching, issues I'm grappling with, or things that have been helping me grow emotionally, bring peace to inner turmoil, or find joy.

Part of me wants to groan at the pretentiousness of this approach, as if all of my thoughts and insights hold any sort of importance. But I'm choosing to view it another way: that I'm not a unique snowflake but instead quite commonplace, meaning the things I'm struggling with, the ideas I'm trying to reconcile, and what's causing me anxiety, these must be things that other folks are going through. If that's not you, that's ok. We can part ways here (unsubscribe link at the bottom). If it is... Welcome to my next two-month experiment!

I'm committing to sending this newsletter every week, at least for the next two months.

Most of it will still center around food and agriculture, but I also want to share with you about a broader range of topics, things like personal growth, feelings and emotional maturity, relationships and therapy, money, masculinity, my Asian American experience, happiness, capitalism and anti-capitalism.

And since I'm no longer on the farm, I figured it was time for a new name: Food Ink. Because almost everything can somehow be tied back to food, whether it's farming, feelings, family, or finances. And my medium is (digital) ink.

My hope is that you'll find value + relevance in at least one item in each newsletter, and if not, then the next one. If too many in a row aren't relevant to you, then I am sorry for the intrusions and feel free to drop me some feedback before you go.

Now, to close out that loop on feeling like I'm intruding...

Working with my therapist over the past year, and through my journaling, I've noticed that shame comes up a lot for me. It sits at the root of virtually all my fears and anxieties, and it underpins most of my relationships, especially my familial ones. Part of that, I'm learning, is due to generational trauma - Korea was a war-torn place not that long ago. And in the aftermath of war, scarcity abounds and mere survival is widely uncertain. These effects ripple through time, as one generation's pain, left unresolved, becomes the next generation's burden. And on and on, perpetuating a toxicity that multiplies exponentially, unless the cycle is broken. But more on that another time.

For now, here's a handful of things I've found to be valuable and relevant this week, starting with something that's helped me cope with and overcome my sometimes debilitating sense of shame.


😳 I'm often quick to anger (which my girlfriend regularly reminds me is a secondary emotion). It took me so long to uncover that shame often underlies this and many other of my emotions. The reason it took me so long is because I don't have the vocabulary oftentimes to express how I'm feeling, which ironically enough usually leads to frustration and more anger.

I don't have the vocabulary because I never learned. I wasn't taught this in school. I wasn't taught this by my immigrant parents whose first language is not how I best communicate. And this kind of language or the behavior of communicating feelings (aside from anger) is seldom modeled by or for men in our entertainment, media, and culture. Enter, the Feelings Inventory and its companion, the Needs Inventory.

A friend of mine recently introduced me to these lists, and they've been immensely helpful. If this seems rudimentary to you, then congratulations; somewhere along the road, someone in your life taught you how to communicate your feelings or likely modeled this behavior for you. But I'm willing to bet that most people could benefit from using these lists to help identify and communicate what they're feeling (Feelings Inventory) and why (Needs Inventory). These lists make the questions of what you're feeling and what you need multiple choice, which makes everything easier (like when the doctor asks, "What kind of pain are you experiencing?" Shrug. "Is it shooting, is it stabbing, is it dull, is it sharp, is it achey?" Achey! The pain is achey!).

Since discovering these lists, I've been much better at managing my anger and understanding how I'm feeling. That alone has made a huge improvement to my mood day to day. I haven't really gotten to the step of identifying my needs in those scenarios, but that will be the next step for me.

♹ If you didn't catch the Plastics episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver it's really worth a watch. Some of it I already suspected, some of it was mind-blowingly alarming, and most of it I was able to verify with a friend who's done extensive research and diligence work in plastics manufacturing.

As it turns out, most of the things we routinely buy at the grocery store - like the near ubiquitous plastic "clamshell" packaging that salad greens come in, or the pint- and quart-sized plastic cylindrical "tubs" of dips, salsas, or cut fruit (same as the containers often used for soups, stews, or sometimes rice for take-out or delivery orders) - are not accepted by recycling programs. That means this plastic either ends up in landfills, gets burned, or winds up in oceans, "where it breaks down into microplastics, gets eaten by fish, and can end up inside us." Roland Geyer, a professor at UC Santa Barbara, says "There is plastic in your food, plastic in your sea salt, and there is plastic coming out of your tap." We could be ingesting up to "a credit card's worth of microplastics" every week, according to a recent study noted in the segment.

Starting at 05:40, John Oliver talks about the organization that produced an ad effectively shifting the blame for plastics pollution to consumers. That organization, Keep America Beautiful, was partly funded by a plastics industry trade group and made up of leading beverage and packaging companies. Which all makes sense when you realize that the underlying message of their ad campaign is that it's up to consumers to stop pollution, i.e., "It is your responsibility to deal with the environmental impact of their products."

The most appalling piece of information was this, starting at 06:10: There are seven categories of plastics denoted by the ubiquitous recycling symbol, a triangle of chasing arrows with a number inside it. Only two of the categories can reasonably be expected to be recycled. According to this segment, the two categories of plastics that can be recycled (or at least reasonably expected to be), are PETE and HDPE plastics, denoted by a 1 and 2, respectively, inside the recycling symbol. Soda and laundry detergent bottles are examples of these types of plastics that can and do get recycled. However, certain other types of PETE and HDPE plastics, like the aforementioned lettuce tubs, may not. As for the categories 3-7, "we have the capacity to recycle less than 5%" of them. Yet, despite knowing that the vast majority of plastics can't be recycled, the plastics industry lobbied state legislators to pass laws that require those symbols to be placed on all containers, regardless of whether or not they can be recycled.

Side note: If you can't quite place your finger on the feeling you're feeling after hearing this, it's disgust. I checked the Feelings Inventory.

All that said, the segment emphasizes that it's still important to recycle - paper, cardboard, aluminum, even plastics. I highly recommend watching the entire episode (on YouTube here) to get the full scoop and become more wary of this kind of deflective industry propaganda.

😊 Delight No. 3: Last spring, while living upstate, we got a dog named Gordy. He's a (very) Mini Goldendoodle and he is quite adorable. We're obsessed. One of the delightful things about him is that he is sometimes quite cat-like. Here he is being a hat on top of Reesa, which feels like something a cat would do:


We also just started service dog training with him (with a trainer who trains the NYPD K-9 unit), so I'm sure there are more Gordy cameos to come in the Delight section.



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Betting the farm,