APPETITES: Yoko Ono
By Lese Dunton, Edible Manhattan
Photographs by Charlotte Muhl & Sean Lennon 2009 ©YOKO ONO
On chocolate, kimchi and why begging is a state of mind.
Artist Yoko Ono is known not only as John Lennon’s widow—from their wedding in 1969 until his murder on the steps of the Dakota in 1980, they were arguably the most famous couple in the world—but also for her pioneering work in music, film and avant-garde art, as well as for her philanthropic contributions and peace projects. Organizations that have benefited from her generosity include the United Nations and Mayors for Peace. Lennon would have turned 70 this year; although Ono’s time on earth with him was cut short, their story lives on as inspiration about the power of love and peace.
Edible Manhattan: Do you have any food memories of John Lennon?
Yoko Ono: John loved chocolate. I didn’t. But after his passing, I went for chocolate, and I liked it. Now, I’m trying not to eat too much of it.
EM: Your work takes you around the world. What fuels you?
YO: When I come home from a long trip abroad, I drink orange juice with grated ginger and garlic mixed. That just revives you.
EM: I read that when you were a child, you and your family had to beg for food.
YO: Whoa! Me and my family never begged for food. Begging is a state of mind. I was not even in my teens but I made deals—exchanged a beautiful silk kimono for rice, kinda thing. Of course, I was lucky that we had beautiful silk kimonos. But I probably would have died starving rather than begging. The way I looked then—skin and bones—I may have gone down that road. My mother was in Tokyo; my father was in a concentration camp in Saigon. I was taking care of myself and my younger sister and brother in a northern prefecture in Japan.
EM: How has your Japanese background influenced your lifelong appetite?
YO: I don’t eat quantity. I don’t crave for big fat steak, for instance. Just a little bowl of rice and kimchi will do for my lunch. Kimchi is my favorite thing. I eat mostly vegetables. I can’t stand how we are treating the animals. I eat fish off and on. But actually, I feel the best when I am just eating good, fresh vegetables.
EM: What do you think public eating habits say about modern life?
YO: Our eating lifestyle is changing rapidly now. For many reasons. I just don’t think you should listen to anybody. Just follow your instincts.
EM: These days food has political implications for everything from childhood obesity to global warming to cultural genocide, making it an entry point into activism. What do you think about the public’s increasing awareness of the impacts of eating choices?
YO: It’s good that we are more aware now, of everything in our life, actually. Since we know, we can’t go back. We’ll keep growing into a healthy race, mentally and physically. I’d like to stick around and see what happens.
EM: As a longtime feminist, what do you think about the recent reclamation of homemaking? These days, young progressives enthusiastically make their own pickles.
YO: Women of the ’60s made pickles, too, you know. Health food started then. We were feminists but we weren’t dumb.