May 2, 2023

In what ways does the significance of the title, Tastes Like War, show up throughout the book?

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Enjoying the book so far.

Luke Reimer

Me too


The title relates to her mother’s battle with schizophrenia.


Food is part of our cultural identity. Think how especially important it must have been when during the war they had to scavenge to fine food to eat. And another kind of war, a war against racism in the US, a war to belong to American culture. Her Mom was a strong fighter and I think when she no longer had to fight was when the mental illness started.


I find it really interesting that although the book refers constantly to food, her mother only explicitly connects the taste of canned milk to war. Her native foods like kimchi, which she survived on for months during the war, are comforting despite their strong connection to her wartime experiences. It’s only the American food offerings that bring up the traumatic memories. I think perhaps all American food reminds her of war which is why she goes through so much effort to make Korean food and scavenge wild foods. When she becomes too ill to cook Korean food, she would rather… Read more »


The entire book relates back to food. It honestly makes sense because most people’s lives revolve around food. It’s easy to think of a memory where there was a meal being enjoyed. The theme of war is also the basis of this story. Without war this story would be very different. The author talked about surviving the Korean War by eating kimchi and rice. That one instance relates the two topics, but there are many more times throughout that they are related. You could also see it as a metaphor as to how war affected her mother with the affect… Read more »

Alison Smith

This book has such a strong focus on food. I was amazed by the memories Grace’s mother had for Korean dishes in her final years. Even ones she had never cooked. The story of her mother is told through food, her memories are of food and we can imagine the time she spent watching her own mother cooking and taking in and memorising all the details of how to prepare the dish, when she was a young child. She never speaks of her memories, but of the food, which for her is the window to her past and indirectly to… Read more »

Beth G

I listened to the audiobook and it was a good choice – the reader was excellent with the different voices. Food – finding, making, and eating it – was a central topic that tied all the stories together. It was an excellent tool to turn what could have been a simple memoir, an immigrant story, or an illustration of schizophrenia into a complex, well told book. Excellent read.


I’m about halfway through the audio book right now, and obviously food is central to their story and the way it’s told. It’s a weapon (ie., her mother refusing food, the delegation of foods and powdered milk during war) and a comfort (ie., her mother offering food to incoming immigrants, her mother searching for the Napa cabbage). It’s a method of connection and a sharing of culture (i.e., the cultural day, sharing of recipes between mother and daughter). It’s a way of showing love, care, and tenderness (ie., the careful preparation of foods). It’s a way of providing and generating… Read more »

Alison Smith

Thank you for your commentary from the middle of the book. Having finished it, and there is so much content, it was good to have reminders from this perspective. The parent’s marriage is doomed when you think from this perspective as it embodies the war.

Cynthia D

So well said— Food is a weapon and a comfort. A connection in so many ways, to the mother and daughter, to the past and the present.


I agree with the previous posts about food being central to the story and the vehicle that connects mother to daughter. I also thought about the connection between food and the war the mother fought within herself, the schizophrenia. There were many instances when she used food, or her refusal of food, to fight her war with schizophrenia. She decided when she would eat and when she refused to eat. Maybe she felt it was the only thing she could have control over.


I loved the book from the beginning. It captivated me. The author and her mum are the same age as my mom and I. My mom also had to live through a war and food deprived years. For her, the title could have been “Tastes like starvation”.


Food is central to the book. It connects the mother to her memories (good and bad), and also connects mother and daughter.


This book started VERY slow for me and I almost returned it early. So glad I did not. The ‘taste! Showed itself in many ways throughout this book. The sage conversation & sightings were directly connected with the taste for many dishes of her home-life coming back to a desirable place in her current life.
Herbs/seasonings/dishes etc…are often the center of our beings.


I just discovered the Big Library Read. So excited and already started the book.


Just starting the book Excited!


My mind went to the negative and I thought to when Koonja ate the spoiled soy milk. It could’ve been Oakie that made her or it could’ve been how during the war many people ate rotten spoiled trash. She also ate the last stale bread slice that Grace thought she might’ve taken out of the trash can, just like how she probably took half eaten cheeseburgers out of the army bases trash cans.


It started as a literal connection: powdered milk tastes like war to the mom because of the powdered milk that was given out during the war in Korea that she endured. This brings up the strong associations taste can have for us and how a single food can transport us across time and space and conjure up vivid memories, both positive and negative. The rest of the book is many examples of this, for both the mom and daughter. Korean food, American food, foraging, and baking. The concept of “war” shifts from the actual Korean War to the wars of… Read more »


Alaina, I completely agree with you. It was a tribute to her mother and honoring the importance and significance of food within the context of war and then all the social, physical, and emotional challenges she faced throughout her life. Food represented survival, identity, inventiveness, ingenuity, appreciation, and at the end the passing of the baton to her daughter knowing that Grace had achieved the life always wished for her. This is a love story of a mother and a daughter.


There are so many directions you can take this prompt, but my favorite instance was when her mother starts to forage for mushrooms and berries. With this foraging she was able to make money for herself and her daughter as well as make a new name for herself rather than “the Korean lady”. Then there was the time she made jars of kimchi and used it as a welcoming gift to Korean people coming to the area for refuge. The mother helped so many people and guided them through the “battle” that is adapting to life in America. I found… Read more »

Sherry Pendleton

The first time it shows up is when second mother relates the taste of powdered milk, the food aid from the Americans, to that of war time. Second mother recalls this ‘aid’ from Americans as only causing more suffering.

Jennifer Morgan

I agree with Sherry’s reading of this. In this first instance “tastes like war” is a negative. And yet, as with some other examples given for this prompt, kimchi and foraged food, which she ate during the war, were motivators. And cheese burgers, which the author says many people discovered in the trash cans outside the American military camps, was her favourite. There is a bittersweet note in this book’s title, while powdered milk was a bad taste, cheese burgers were something to celebrate. Like the daughter she was so proud of, not all byproducts of war tasted bad.


Your last line is so great!


Absolutely! From the initial, negative use of the phrase regarding powdered milk, the author weaves the concept throughout the story relating positive and negative food-associated feelings. I, too, love your last line. Beautiful.


Mom continues to be at war with herself. Food is the compass to bring her back to her original Korean roots before her trauma . While helping the daughter connect & bond despite the barriers Schizophrenia erects.


Through the art of kimchi. Her mother survived the war alone thanks to earthenware jars of kimchi stashed in the cellar of her family’s home.

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