West indian culture

What is on the menu? Gastronomy and culture on the International Space Station

Learn about the intersection of food and culture on the International Space Station.

In honor of Asian American and Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, learn about the intersection of food and culture in space from[{” attribute=””>NASA astronaut Sunita “Suni” Williams, whose father immigrated to the U.S. from India, and International Space Station (ISS) food scientist/system manager Xulei Wu, a first-generation Asian American born in China.

Hear their stories about cultural representation in space, the importance of food in Indian and Chinese cultures, and the inclusive standard menu aboard the ISS.

Video transcript:

It’s our kitchen. You might notice that there are all kinds of foods here. It’s like opening the fridge, you have all your different stuff that you want to have.

Food in Indian culture is super important. It’s like when everyone comes together of course, but it means so much that someone prepares food for someone else and gives it to them as a gift.

At JC’s Space Food Systems Laboratory, we develop, process, package and supply the majority of food on the ISS for US OS crew members.

So we have all this type of food. A part is dehydrated and therefore we have to hydrate it, fill it with water. A part is already done, and it only remains to heat it up.

The food on the ISS is kind of an example of the many cultures that come to live on the International Space Station.

Among the standard menu, about 10% of the main courses are inspired by Asian culture. They provide a unique flavor profile and help offset the low sodium requirement we need to meet. This adds variety to the food system.

When I realized there were Indian dishes on the standard menu, I was pretty excited because that’s something I’ve eaten all my life, grown up with, in particular, this reminds me of when I was a kid and at home with my family.

There is a popular Chinese proverb which means food is most important to people.

Food is always present in our traditions. In all forms of rituals, ceremonies and celebrations.

So mealtimes on the ISS are a bit varied, but the most important meal in my mind is dinner. Because it really is the end of the day. Everyone is relaxing. Everyone can have dinner together, which is really nice. Sharing food perhaps from your family or culture and telling you where it came from when you experienced it and what it means to you and your family.

NASA is celebrating Pacific Islander Americans of Asian and Hawaiian descent Heritage Month.


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