From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy
From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy Podcast
A Conversation with Karon Liu

A Conversation with Karon Liu

Talking to the Toronto Star food writer about shifting definitions of authenticity.

Today, I’m talking Karon Liu, a food writer at the Toronto Star. I’ve long been a fan of his work and perspective, which is accessible but has an eye toward sustainability; has humor and deep understanding, but is authoritative in his perspective.

We discussed how he got into food despite never cooking growing up, shifting definitions of authenticity, and being a writer who can convey the totality of Toronto to an international audience.

Alicia: Hi, Karon. Thank you so much for being here and chatting with me today.

Karon: Thank you very much, Alicia. I'm a longtime listener, first-time caller.

Alicia: [Laughs.]

Can you tell me about where you grew up and what you ate?

Karon: Oh, my God, my origin story. I think my origin story is quite different from a lot of your previous guests. I feel when you ask a food writer what their relationship with food was early on, they'll say like, ‘Oh, I used to gather around the dinner table with my grandma for Sunday night dinners. And it was such an important part of the week. And I would be in the garden. I would watch my mom cook. And it was so important in my formative years.’ And mine is the complete 180.

I think a lot of kids who grew up in the early ’90s were, who were raised on television and were latchkey kids, we just completely absorbed all the junk-food commercials that were blasted at us. So what I think about what I ate growing up, it was all the golden brown, deep-fried junk. So it was a lot of pizza pops, which I think is—the American equivalent would be Hot Pockets. Mini-microwave pizza, Kraft mac and cheese. Sorry to be a Canadian stereotype, but I did eat Kraft mac and cheese growing up. Instant ramen. A lot of that. 

But I lived with my grandmother, as well, in our house, and she was an amazing cook. She cooked a lot of really fantastic Cantonese dishes, but I didn't really appreciate it back then. I think a lot of immigrant children growing up in Canada, or in the U.S., they were—they wanted to assimilate into ‘American, Canadian culture’ so much that they kind of looked down or didn't appreciate the cooking of their heritage as much. 

And I remember my grandma making fantastic stews, and all these really big beautiful steamed fish and these fermented things and pickles and stuff like that. And I didn't appreciate it because I wanted McDonald's and burgers. That’s what I ate growing up. [Laughs.]

Alicia: Well, I'm the same way when people ask me about this. There is a lot of beautiful, great food that I ate. But I also, all summer, was responsible for me and my brother and would just boil cheese tortellini. I would be horrified—I ate meat then, but when my mom accidentally bought the meat tortellini, I would want to die. And a lot of Ellio's pizza and everything, so. And a lot of putting a hot dog in the microwave. I don't know why I did that. [Laughter.]

Karon: I mean, at least you used the microwave. I didn’t use the microwave, but I didn't know how to use a microwave. I'm trying to, try to remember back then. Because I think my parents wanted me to focus on studying and be great at academics, to—sorry to be a cliché. [Laughter.] Ayy, Chinese immigrant fam with Chinese parents. 

I wasn't encouraged to cook. They were like, ‘Study. Study, study. Don't go to the kitchen.’ So I didn't know how to cook. I don't even think I knew how to turn on the stove growing up. I didn't think I touched the stove until I was in my twenties. It was awful.

Alicia: Yeah. I didn't know how to make an egg until I went to college. And I had to learn how to scramble an egg, and I was on the phone with my mother. I was Googling how to do laundry. I didn't know how to do anything. So I'm right there with you. It's okay to grow up not knowing how to do anything.

Karon: But I think it helped us in the larger part. I think our experiences are quite similar,  or quite similar to a lot of people right around the world. I think there's more people like us who grew up on junk food and convenience foods, and were taught to not stay in the kitchen and to focus on our studies than who grew up on a beautiful farm and there’s the garden. Whenever I read a cookbook jacket, and it starts off with that, I'm like, ‘I'm out.’ I don’t know how to relate to it.

Alicia: I always come from that perspective in my work, which is just like we do have nostalgia for crap sometimes. But it is funny because the other day I posted on Instagram stories that I love Wendy's barbecue sauce. And so, when barbecue sauce tastes like Wendy's, I love it. And someone was like, ‘That's sad.’ Ok, sorry. I didn't grow up in the south eating—I don't know what kind of barbecue sauce they eat. I don't know. [Laughs.]

Karon: Did Wendy's give you that spon-con deal yet? Or are you still figuring it out?

Alicia: I will not take a spon con deal from Wendy’s. I just mean, I just like that the smokiness and sweetness I think are really well balanced in their barbecue sauce. I don't know. 

But you studied journalism. And I was looking at your résumé and you seemingly went right into writing about food. When did you decide you wanted to be a food writer? And how did you make that happen?

Karon: So I went to journalism school. And at that point, food writing wasn't really talked about outside of being a restaurant critic. And those jobs, they open up when the critic retires or dies. That's pretty much it. So I went into journalism school thinking I was going to be a general assignment reporter, which is basically covering anything and everything that happens in the city. 

So I graduated, and then I did a few internships, and I realized that general assignment—so covering courts, crimes, everyday city stuff, I was horrible at covering. Breaking news, hard news, I hated it. I hated covering courts, because I was so scared that I would accidently cover, write something wrong or publish something that was under a publication ban. Or going to a crime scene, I was so nervous. It was so stressful. It took so much out of me emotionally, and I just couldn't do it. 

I just applied for an internship at this magazine called Toronto Life, which I guess is the—I have to give American equivalents every time I talk about, make Canadian references. New York Magazine would be the equivalent of it. And it's a city magazine. And the week that I started, they started a food and restaurant blog covering what's hot, what's new. Because this was the early—the late 2000s, early 2010s, when the rock-star chef persona, that whole food culture starts to come up. The third wave of independent restaurants, the 30-seat chef-owned restaurants where they played, like, rock music. I sound like such a dweeb.

That genre of the post-2008 recession restaurants came about. So it was a really exciting time for food. And they started that restaurant blog, and I didn't know anything about food but I needed clippings for my portfolio, so I just kind of wedged myself in there. And that's how I got started writing about food. 

I don't think I still turned on the stove at that point. I might have graduated to learning how to use a microwave. Still didn’t know anything. But when you're out in the field, and you're talking to cooks and learning about cooking in restaurants, it starts to seep in. So it starts to encourage you to cook and to try different ingredients, and to really just get your, force yourself into the kitchen.

Alicia: In what direction did you go to force yourself into the kitchen? Were there books, were there TV shows, were there ingredients or flavors that inspired you to actually cook?

Karon: I actually didn't watch food TV that much, ’cause I think it just reminded me of work. I think around that time Top Chef Canada came out, and I think I watched one or two seasons when it first came out. And then I just stopped, because it was like, ‘Oh, I recognize that person. Oh crap. This reminds me of work.’ Or like, ‘Oh, I have to call that person back for an interview.’ I was like, ‘No, this is eating into Karon time at night.’ I didn’t like it.

And I think around that time, food internet didn't really take off yet. I think maybe Deb Perelman might have been around at that time, but I didn't know of her work. I think a lot of it was just being in the kitchens and seeing how chefs work and asking them about, ‘Oh, why is this dish like that? Or why do you do this?’ And then when they explained it to me—very patiently, because I'm pretty sure they knew I didn't know anything and they were explaining things to me three or four times, so I didn't get it wrong. 

So I think because they reiterated cooking techniques and flavor pairings so much, that it just seeped in subconsciously. When I'm passing by the St. Lawrence Market, which is Toronto's large farmers’ market, I would be like, ‘Oh, yeah, that's in season. I remember the chef telling me about it.’ And like, ‘Oh, right, that's how they would do it. Maybe I should just pick up some of this stuff and take it home and try it myself.’ So it kind of worked very organically that way. 

I also didn't have a lot of money, so I couldn't buy any cookbooks.

Alicia: [Laughs.] They are so expensive.

Karon: It didn't hurt me that a library was right there, so. [Laughs.]

Alicia: I know you've had some big changes lately at the Toronto Star food section. What has been going on there?

Karon: Yes. Well, thank you very much for letting me plug the new food section. 

We're in our first month. We just have a new food section coming out. And it's me and my good friend Suresh, who has been through writing for much longer than I have, at least 15 years. And the two of us, we love eating around the city. And we just love the city so much. There's just so much that I think people don't know about that needs to be celebrated. 

The higher-ups at the Star, the big mucky mucks, were like, ‘Hey, you guys like writing about food. Here's a new food section. What do you want to do?’ And we were more or less given carte blanche, and it's just so much fun. 

And the places that we always eat are the places in the strip malls, the plazas outside of the Toronto downtown core. In the suburbs, and places like Scarborough, Markham, North York. I'm sure this is the first American podcast where they're, like, the word North York and Richmond Hill were mentioned. Vaughan, Woodbridge, Etobicoke. All these little suburbs outside of the downtown area that most people know about, where all the big expensive splashy restaurants are. Those are the places that I love to eat at and Suresh loves to eat at, but it hasn't really been covered before in a lot of food media here for reasons that—We know. We know. We know why.

Look, we've been given that opportunity to do that. It’s really, really exciting to be able to go to these places, and let more people know about them so that they can go out and eat and explore the city that they think they know but there's still so much to learn.

Alicia: In this job where you're at, The Star, you've done so much. You're editing, you’re feature writing, you're writing restaurant reviews. You were doing recipe development as well. And so, how have you juggled all of that? And what are you looking forward to focusing on now?

Karon: Yeah, it's so much, because unlike the newspapers, in, say, the New York Times and San Fran Chronicle or L.A. Times, where they have a fairly sizable food team, in Canada, it's a lot more bare-bones. Everyone has to wear multiple hats. So I'm just really happy that I get to have a more focused mandate again, just kind of just exploring and eating out and being able to tell the stories of a lot of these cooks and people who work in the restaurant industry that don't really have a voice and be able to talk about different cuisines and what it's like to work in the restaurant industry. 

Yeah, it's a lot more focused and a lot more fun. ’Cause before it was a lot, doing a lot of different things and hoping that I didn't screw up.

Alicia: [Laughs.] Well, I think of you and Suresh as well as being more focused on your cities than other food writers. Well, Jonathan Nunn in London, he calls himself more of a city writer. I think the other person that's pointed to as more of a city writer was Jonathan Gold at the L.A. Times. You are really conveying the entirety of a city in your work. You're doing service and lifestyle for people who live there. But you're also sort of defining and expanding the idea of what Toronto is to people who read your work outside of that city. 

How does that city inspire your work? You were just talking about going into the suburbs and everything. How do you see the food media outside of Toronto kind of influencing your work, if it does?

Karon: Yeah, I mean, that’s a good question. I think that's part of the reason why I don't really do recipes anymore. Because even people in Toronto, when they want a food recipe from a food publication, they'll hit up Food & Wine or Bon Appetit, places that have such a, not monopoly, but they're like juggernauts when it comes to recipes. New York Times Cooking. So it didn't really feel it was necessary for me to go into that, because I don't think people come to me for recipes. 

But what I think I can do and Suresh can do is to just really put the Greater Toronto Area, which encompasses North York, Scarborough, all those surrounding suburbs, into an international spotlight, because there's just so much good stuff there. And I think there's very few people doing it right now on such being—or doing it on, or being able to do it on a large platform. The Toronto Star, that's one—I think that's one area where we think that we can really excel at and shine. So we're like, ‘Ok, let's just do that.’

I think Toronto always bills itself as a very multicultural city. And it's been repeated so much that we kind of just like, ‘Yeah, of course, whatever.’ It's a given. But it's not until you go, you're traveling and you're outside Toronto. You're like, ‘Oh, wow, Toronto really is a very multicultural city.’ I think our last census report, more than half of the people who live in Toronto, I think, English is their second language or something like that. 

It is wild how many different types of cuisines are are in the city, and how many different types of new cuisines that form when the second, the first and second generation kids take the cuisines of their heritage and combine it with the cuisines that they ate at a friend's house, or the different restaurants that they go to. There's always these new mash-ups that come up and eventually become a very uniquely Toronto tradition. There's always stuff happening, and it's always inspiring me and my food writing.

Alicia: You recently wrote a piece on the concept of authenticity and how Chinese chefs in Toronto are challenging it by doing what you just explained, being authentic to their own lives and experience rather than kind of a historical or nostalgic ideal. How did that story come about, and how does it relate to your own life in cooking? 

Karon: Yeah, I think that being a millennial and having a lot more people in my cohort, becoming chefs and opening the restaurants now and being more authoritative in their jobs, that's kind of really helped shift the definition of what authenticity means in cuisines. 

So going back to my example of what I ate growing up. It was a lot of junk food. It was a lot of stuff from the food court, where it’s a lot of the Canadian Chinese food, like the chicken balls, the fried rice, the spring rolls and the chop suey stuff. And then if you were to ask my parents if that was real Chinese food, they’d be like, ‘I didn't eat any of this stuff in Hong Kong.’ 

But for me, it was authentic, because it was what I grew up eating. It's my authentic childhood, my life experiences. Who's to say that all those years of eating, I was not doing it authentically? What does that even mean? So I think that now there's a lot more cooks and chefs in their 30s who grew up eating like I did, and are taking inspirations from that childhood and merging it with the food that their parents ate or something like that, and creating this whole new cuisine and saying, ‘That's what I ate growing up. That's my authentic experience. Who are you to say no?’

And I think that now the definition of authenticity has really changed. It’s no longer referencing a fixed point in time in a specific region. But it's very fluid. And it really depends on who's cooking it and how that authenticity that they're trying to push references their upbringing and where they ate and where they're going and what they cooked with. Because yeah, it's so weird to think that authenticity in cooking points to one region, one specific time. That's not how food works. It’s constantly evolving.

Alicia: No, I did a piece last year on translation. That was something that people brought up, was that when you're not translating the food writing or you're not investing in finding food writers who are on the ground in different countries in different cultures, you are perpetuating these kinds of historic ideas of a cuisine. You're kind of putting them in a box in a museum and saying they can't change, when on the—if you're letting a diaspora define, and also not get out of a box of what their ancestral cooking is, then you're—it's not doing anyone any service. It's putting a cuisine in a museum and saying, ‘Certain cuisines need to go in a museum and other cuisines are allowed to change.’

Karon: Yeah, especially when you're a cook now. And you have so many different influences. I think a lot more people are traveling now. They're living in different cities. There's the internet. The whole idea of globalization, it just really affects so many cuisines. And that's just how it's evolving now. And to ignore all of that, and try to cook the way that things were at maybe one point in your life in an area that you don't even live in anymore. Is that authentic to you? Is it authentic to ignore where you live, where you've worked? Your neighborhood, the restaurants that you grew up eating at, the places where you shop? Is it worth it to ignore all of that, in order to fit some sort of arbitrary standard that a Yelp review wants you to.

Alicia: [Laughs.] Right. 

And I mean, in a related way, you've always on Twitter—I've always loved your commentary on the fact that you grew up thinking of soy milk and cow's milk as separate products, and not one being an alternative for the other. Because so often, there's this really ahistorical narrative around these ‘alternatives.’ It drives me mad, which I think everyone knows.

But I wanted to ask how, if you've seen, kind of food media at large, understand what the nuances are of growing up eating a non-Western cuisine. Because I think, like, we're just talking about, I think that even when food media wants to escape its Western gaze, it continues to be a bit less inclusive than it thinks it's being, if that makes sense.

Karon: Yeah, for sure. 

I think it's starting to get a little bit better, as more food writers who didn't grow up in a Western household are coming up and saying, like, ‘Oh, no. This isn't weird or new. This is  how I've been doing it.’ And it's starting to get there. 

But I think in order for more sweeping or permanent changes, I think it's—you have to look at the people at the top. The people at, who are the editors, the publishers, the people who are making those ultimate editorial decisions and choosing who to hire, what to commission, how things are edited, how things are displayed, how things are shot and styled. 

[Laughs.] And I say styled, because one thing that always irks me is that more often than not, when I see a bowl of noodles with chopsticks, the chopsticks are always crossed. Or they're stabbing into the bowl of noodles, which is a big no-no in Chinese culture. It's rude or a bad luck thing. That always gets me. Or when you see a pair of model hands, and they're not holding the chopsticks correctly. I'm like, ‘Oh, you're never going to get the noodles holding them like that.’ 

I think that really has to change. And I hope it's getting there. There's more writers who have more voices. At the end of the day, they're the ones who are at the bottom of the corporate hierarchy. They're not the ones that have the voices who are able to make these calls at the end of the day to stop perpetuating stereotypes and misinformation about cuisines.

Alicia: Yeah, no.

And that's, I think, why I always come back to the idea of translation, too, where it's like, ‘Ok, if you're not going to change who's at the top. You claim, still, to want to actually change how things are perceived. Then maybe be more open to like a global—Especially in American food media. Because American food media claims to be the arbiter of taste, and yet it's so siloed and so provincial. It's so provincial. They would send someone to Toronto rather than interview you about Toronto, you know?

Karon: That has happened. That has happened just to me the past summer.  You will see it in the New Year. If you're wondering why I'm not in there, just let you know. I was reached out to; I responded; I gave my list of suggestions. I said, ‘Get out of the proper Toronto, come to the ’burbs.’ And I never heard from them again.

Alicia: [Laughs.] Wow. 

Well, [laughs] I also wanted to ask, because we've talked about before—I did a piece at the New Republic about how food people who do food as lifestyle should also be concerned about sourcing and sustainability. 

And then we talked about shrimp for a different piece about how difficult it is to source well. So when you were doing recipe development, you weren't including shrimp, because you just didn't want to be suggesting people buy this cheap shrimp that has such terrible labor conditions and terrible environmental impacts. 

But I wanted to ask now that you're not doing recipes, but you are still kind of an arbiter of taste online for food people, how do you bring balance to what you share online? Because people will see you as an authority.

Karon: Yeah, it's such a difficult thing to do. 

I remember once I posted something where I used avocados, I just sliced some avocados on my toast.

Alicia: [Laughs.] 

Karon: [Laughs.] Yeah, I'm a real arbiter. I made avocado toast. Revolutionary. 

And I think I had someone in my comments like, ‘Oh, that looks really good, but I don't use avocados because it's X, Y and Z.’ I’m like, ‘Ok, yeah.’ So you kind of start going down a spiral, because you're like, ‘This is this. Is this that.’ It's so hard to think about without driving yourself nuts or bumming you out. 

And I think you've written about this before, in terms of be as educated and make as informed decisions as you can. So I think being a food writer and knowing more about the environmental and labor consequences of purchasing decisions has really shifted the way how I cook at home, and where I eat as well. 

So our house has—I can't remember the last time we bought beef, my gosh. I really can't remember the last time I even cooked with beef. So we stopped. We stopped buying beef. Maybe not so much environmental, it just got really expensive here. Pork, as well. We don't really cook with pork anymore. We go with chicken, which, I mean, I'm sure, Alicia, you can also argue that's also not good. We go through a lot of eggs as well. 

People can’t see this. She's tilting her head a little bit, going like, ‘Mm-hmm. Uh-huh, uh-huh. Eggs are great. Yeah, eat more chicken. I'm not judging you at all.’ But I've eaten more seasonally now. Right now, I think the only fruit that I'm eating is apples. That’s what’s in season here in Ontario. And I'm just trying to be as mindful of my eating as possible. But at the same time, I'm not positioning myself as perfect. 

What should I do. Alicia? What should I do? Help me.

Alicia: [Laughs.] I think you're doing great. I think you're doing great.

I mean, the funny thing is, and the reason I was making that face, is because everyone—people cut out beef completely. Basically, people are really good at cutting out beef completely from their diets, which is fantastic. But then yeah, of course people eat pork, especially when they go out. Pork is a big thing for when you go out to eat, I think, more than people are cooking it at home necessarily other than different occasions.

But chicken is the thing that people just, once they make a decision to try to eat meat sustainably, they just eat so much. I understand it's part of this—it's part of that transition to thinking about these things, is to just eat a lot more chicken. And I don't think that that's actually bad. I think it's part of that process of understanding the role of meat in your life. 

I posted about my Montreal trip on Instagram today and in my newsletter. And I was like, ‘Oh, people are gonna tear me to shreds about all this Parmesan cheese.’ So, I'm at a level where it's like, I can't even have some Parmesan on a kale salad publicly without feeling like people are going to lose their minds at me.

Karon: It's a balance, because I think living in a city like Toronto that is so multicultural, there are cuisines where beef is so integral to so much of the history and the cuisines of it. And for me to be like, ‘No, that's wrong.’ That’s such a douchebag move, right? And who am I to say like, ‘No,’ all across the board?

Alicia: And there are places where beef is sustainable. I know that in Ethiopia, they traditionally eat a lot more beef than chicken. But it's beef that has been reared in a fashion that is actually good for the soil and good for the environment. And it doesn't have that impact the way we rear meat in the United States.

I did want to ask you, you're always eating such good food out and posting about it. And I'm always so jealous. But do you have a methodology for eating out?

Karon: So a lot of it is just Suresh and I, my co-collaborator, I guess, on our food section at the Star, we just text each other. ‘Hey, have you tried this?’ Or like, ‘Oh, I passed by this. Have you tried it before?’ 

And on weekends, it's—when I go on my exploring trips, and I'll just randomly pick a place, somewhere. And I'll just head there. And I'll do some preliminary research. Very scientific, I just go on Google Maps and type in restaurants. And I just see what's there. 

The thing is, a lot of these places that I'm interested in don't have websites or social media presence, so I just have to go there and see. There is some use in Yelp reviews, because it does—I don't treat it as the Bible. But it kind of gives you an idea of what the selection is, what kind of cuisines that they serve and stuff like that. 

So I just go there. And I get asked this question a lot, like, ‘How do you find these places? Or how do you determine where to go?’ And I just say. ‘You just go.’ It doesn't mean that it's always good. I don't post everything that I eat. I'm not wasting time posting something that I don't like, right? It messes up the vibe of my grid. 

So, you just have to go out and eat. If you see a place that piques your interest, if it's this little storefront, if you see some activity going on or you see a really interesting bakery shelf, or you're seeing people come out with a bunch of takeout boxes, go in and just just ask. Because you never know. Just go in and be like, ‘Hey, this is my first time here. Is there anything you would recommend?’ And I've done that so many times before. And I'm always pleasantly surprised, because a lot of places don't have menus, because they don't need to, because they just spread by word of mouth. People already know what they need. 

So you just have to almost kind of think like a reporter and just be very curious about your city, and just go anywhere and everywhere. 

Alicia: Yeah, yeah. 

Well, for you is cooking a political act? 

Karon: Oh, yeah. For sure. 

I mean, I think we've talked about considering the environmental and labor consequences of the ingredients that we work with, and sometimes how it sends us into a spiral of sorts. Whenever I talk to people who want to get into food writing, I always say, ‘Food, it's never just a recipe. It's never just 800 words about whether or not this restaurant is good.’ Food is just tied to everything. It can be a labor story. It can be an environmental story. It can be about culture and history, because so many cuisines are formed as a result of colonialism and people making these cuisines out of desperation because they couldn't find jobs elsewhere. 

That's kind of how Chinese American cuisine turned out. It was out of desperation, because they needed jobs, or ingredients were sourced because they couldn't find it anywhere else, whether some ingredient was very scarce due to global warming so they had to find something else. 

It’s also issues of power, of being, having—being able to have food, unfortunately, is a luxury for a lot of people around the world. And so, you're talking about issues of inequality. I'm going down another spiral right now. This is my writing process. You have to go down this giant path about—it's never just a recipe. It's never just about the food. There's so many different things, issues that overlap each other when it comes to food. 

You look at a tomato. It's like, ‘Well, how has it grown? How are the people growing it and harvesting it being treated?’ Here in Canada, we have a lot of migrant workers who have been here for decades. It's very hard for them to get Canadian citizenship or to make enough money or to have worker rights, especially during a pandemic. Oh my god, the pandemic just added a whole other layer of mess to everything in our food system in issues of equality and its supply chains and how the global economy works. Oh, my goodness. It’s a lot. 

But yes, to answer your question. It is political.

Alicia: Well, I want to always end on a more positive note. So now I'm asking: how do you define abundance?

Karon: Oh, I'm gonna bum you out again. Sorry. 

My definition of abundance has really changed in the last two years because of the pandemic. And by that, I mean, whenever I go to the supermarket, it's always so nice to see endless aisles. And in the produce section, just oranges stacked into like a beautiful pyramid, even though—even if I'm not buying it. I'm just like, ‘Oh, it's so nice to see.’ Or if I go to a farmers’ market, and you see a stall that has maybe four or five cabbages as opposed to this big mountain. I'm like, ‘Oh, that's a little sad looking.’

But because of the pandemic, and the shortages that we had in March 2020. I think it really made me redefine what abundance is and that it's nice to have. I think that you have to walk that fine line between abundance—and that means being able to have options and not have to make concessions—and walking that fine line between that and excess. 

I don't know when this is coming out, but it's Cyber Monday today. I’m getting bombarded with all these deals, and it's like, ‘Yeah, it's abundance. I get free shipping, and I have all these options. But do I really need it?’

And during the pandemic, I've—I went to a lot more smaller stores, because the supermarket is a nightmare sometimes. And the selection is smaller, but it's also making me appreciate the different items that I'm getting, because I'm not lost in this endless aisle in this endless sea of options. I'm more mindful of what I'm buying, ’cause I'm also buying less. 

And a lot of these stores, they have a lot of products by local Torontonians that would never be able to scale up to sell at a big department store or a big supermarket. So it really makes me pause and look at these products more. And of course, they cost more. It's a treat, I don't consider it as a grocery item. But it really makes me rethink my shopping habits and my relationship around the word abundance. And now I'm kind of like, ‘Ok, maybe I don't need abundance. Maybe enough is a good enough baseline for me to be at.’

Alicia: Yeah, absolutely. 

Karon: Does that bum you out? I’m sorry.

Alicia: No, it doesn't bum me out. I think that that's perfect. I think that we have to reframe abundance to mean enough, and to mean sharing and to mean—not just abundance for ourselves personally, but thinking of abundance as everyone has enough. 

[Outro music kicks in. Drums with a chill vibe.]

Karon: Thank you. Just summed it all up in one sentence.

Alicia: Well, thank you so much for taking the time today. This has been super fun.

Karon: All right. Thank you, Alicia.

Alicia: Thanks so much to everyone for listening to this week's edition of From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy. Read more at Or follow me on Instagram, Alicia D. Kennedy, on Twitter @aliciakennedy.

From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy
From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy Podcast
A weekly food and culture podcast from writer Alicia Kennedy, who talks to writers, chefs, and more about their lives, careers, and how food fits into it all.