Twice As Black
As Told By: Megan Hysaw
Baby Megan doing what she does best in the kitchen.
I never knew where life was going to take me. But my dad, dad always knew. Before I was born, my parents saw a psychic who told them that I was going to grow up to be a very creative human. A right brain type of person. So, when I told my father that I was dropping out of law school to completely switch paths into culinary, he wasnít surprised at all. He was actually more surprised that it took me this long to do it.
I always knew I loved food. My mom was an extreme foodie, and being a mix of Korean and African American descent, food was the center of my world growing up. All of our family vacations were planned around food and where we wanted to eat . My mom would always pack me the best school lunches. One day she made these rice rolls with seaweed for lunch. I broke them out in front of my classmates and began chowing away and everyone made fun of me, but I didnít care. ďMore for me,Ē I thought.
I like to tell people that being mixed with both Korean and Black is really like being Black twice. It sounds funny, but there are truly so many similarities between the two cultures ó from our history of oppression, to the food we eat, to our respect for our elders and traditions. I never felt that one side of me overpowered the other. Koreans make dishes found traditionally in soul food like oxtail and chitlins, and the Korean history of oppression by the Japanese is so similar to that of Black people in America. To this day, the Japanese act like it never happened.
One of my favorite parts about my mixed heritage is the food. My all time favorite dish is my momís cornbread dressing that she makes every Thanksgiving. It took me a while to realize that stuffing and dressing are two very different things from the preparation, to how itís used; but it wasnít until I was an adult that I realized that dressing is what Black people make for Thanksgiving. The technical difference between stuffing and dressing is that stuffing goes inside of the turkey, while dressing is usually served as a side or to ďdressĒ the turkey. Not only that, but dressing usually incorporates a meat of some sort ó typically sausage ó herbs and spices, and in my momís case, freshly made cornbread. Just thinking about it brings me back to the pungent smell of sauteed onions, sage and giblets. It transports me back to a simpler time of life.
Megan and her mother cooking up something good.
As time went on, I began to feel unheard and unseen. I would share ideas and get funny looks, while colleagues of mine would share the same notions and receive praise. It was odd. It was like no one believed I knew what I was talking about. Even though I checked all of the boxes ó graduated from college, attended culinary school, honed my skills as an excellent cook, and was adept at social media. None of it mattered. Even being in front of the camera felt like I was putting on a show. I had two sides of myself while working at Food Network: my true self, and the self I felt I had to be to be accepted.
Thereís not a moment in life that I can recall not loving food. I feel at peace when Iím in the kitchen, and I knew my peace should not come at the price of sacrificing my Blackness. Food is history. Itís culture. Itís connection. Itís who we are. And Iím proud of who I am, even if others canít see it. My journey took me down a path of self discovery, and my experience at Food Network ó despite its challenges ó taught me that passion could lend itself to a satisfying career. Years later, I have no regrets. Iím a content creator and food stylist who followed her dreams. And, if it doesn’t all work out, I can always go back to law school.
After telling my parents about my quarter life crisis and receiving a somewhat expected, ďYou went to USC to be a cook?Ē look from my mom, I enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa where I studied to become a private chef. Shortly after, I ended up landing an internship at Food Network in New York City. It was a complete dream come true. I remember the giddy feeling of excitement when I found out I landed the job. I grew up watching and looking up to Ina Garten and many other prestigious chefs featured on the network. I felt that working in the same space as some of those people was a great honor. I soon found out that it was an honor that also came with a price.
Being twice as Black has its pros and cons as one can imagine. The food? Pro. The culture? Pro. The systemic racism? Clear con. I had no idea that by completely ditching law school after graduating from USC with a business degree and attending one of the most prestigious culinary schools in America would still lend itself to me being exposed to extreme discrimination and racism. But alas.
Megan is a chef, food stylist, host and self proclaimed vibe curator loving all things beautiful and delicious. She currently resides in LA but spends a lot of her time (pre COVID-19) in NYC. Take a look at her beautiful photos on her IG @meganhysaw.