USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘food superstition’
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Folk Beliefs
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Deadly Chopsticks

KM is a third-generation Japanese-American from Los Angeles, CA. She now lives in Pasadena, CA with her husband and 18-year-old son.

KM gave me some insight on chopstick etiquette that was passed down from her Japanese parents:

“So in Japan, when you’re eating rice with chopsticks, or really anything which chopsticks, you NEVER rest them by sticking them straight up in your food. It looks like the number 4 spelled out, and in Japanese culture 4 is a very unlucky number – it means death. If you go to Japan you’ll never find anything grouped or sold in 4s, it’s just superstition, like how in America people are scared of the number 13. Also, you never point your chopsticks at people, like if you’re talking at the dinner table. It’s rude, and a little threatening.”

My analysis:

Many cultures have different traditions surrounding food and table etiquette, and this folk belief offers insight into utensil practices many American might not be familiar with. While Asian cuisine is not absent here, it’s often transformed over time by the influence of other places, or even other Asian cultures (like common Japanese-Korean fusion). People from all over use chopsticks, but it’s important to be aware of protocol observed by those whose heritage is more authoritative.

Apparently, chopsticks stuck straight-up in rice also imitate incense sticks on the altar at a funeral, another symbol of death or bad luck. Oftentimes people avoid mixing their foodways with death imagery, compounded by the prevalence of rice in Japanese meals.

I also think it’s interesting that the subject is Japanese-American, and three generations removed at that. Seeing which customs are continued when a family emigrates shows both their cultural and individual values, or superstitions that for some reason or another “stick” in places where they’re not observed.

Folk Beliefs

Your belly button will shrink

Background

The informant is Chinese-American where both of her parents are from China, but she has never been there herself. She said that her mom had several superstitions that she would tell her as a child. The informant seemed to feel fondly about this habit of her mother’s.

Context

The informant described this superstition that her mother held following the description of a similar superstition that her mother held. In this way, it was among a list of funny superstitions the mother held that made her seem somewhat quirky.

Text

You should not run or exercise, or whatever, after you eat or else your belly button will shrink… and you won’t have a belly button… and you might die or something

Thoughts

The informants mother probably initially performed this superstition for her daughter either because she actually believed it or to warn against doing strenuous exercise immediately after eating. While it likely won’t shrink your belly button and kill you, it can still cause stomach cramps. The informant seemed to perform the piece of folklore somewhat ironically, laughing at the strange repercussions even as she told it. However, it is still something that stuck with her and that she shares with others as a way of exhibiting her fondness for her mother with her friends.

Customs
Folk medicine
Foodways
general
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Sorrel and Yams

The informant was born and raised into the American culture and way of life. Her mother’s side of the family is in touch with their Jamaican culture and heritage and as the informant grew older she was able to become more into with the beliefs and customs of Jamaica.

Jamaican views on Yams and Sorrel.

Informant…

“Sorrel is a drink that is used in Jamaica that has magical properties that are healing. When an individual becomes sick they will drink sorrel to heal, if they are injured they will do the same. Yams in this culture have a superstition on them where in a sense that they are said to give the ability to help an individual run fast.”

I asked the informant if she believes these things to be true about the two foods and she responded, “I am a track athlete here at USC, and I rely on my ability to be fast and I eat yams because in my tradition yams help you to be fast, but they are also delicious! I would consider myself to be fast and I believe they have helped in that aspect. I don’t think that yams gave me the ability to be fast I just think maybe the have enhanced it because I have eaten so many in my life. With the Sorrel, I believe that it is a form of medicine. When I can feel myself getting sick I will drink some Sorrel and hopefully start to feel better. I believe in this because it has worked for me in the past so I will continue to use it.”

Analysis…

Using foods as a means to achieve something is definitely not unheard of. It is totally normal to have food remedies to help with sickness or whatever other conditions we want to fix or enhance there is a food remedy. I have never heard something this extreme with food remedies. Yams will make you fast, that is a different and interesting concept to me. I think that this traditions is one of those traditions that the community has a superstition about, so it becomes true. With the sorrel that reminds me of hot chicken noodle soup or vitamin c. Whenever we feel a cold coming on we take proactive methods to try and prevent the sickness from taking its toll. The healing properties of sorrel, I connect with honey. Honey is used to heal sore throats and wounds similar to sorrel it comes from a long time ago and is still used today because it actually works.

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