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The Conversation

A life-changing interaction at a bakery turned this woman to Korean food, helping her lose 110 pounds

Africa Yoon

This Thanksgiving week, you might be thinking about food — although maybe not Korean food. But one local woman credits Korean food with transforming her life, helping her to lose 110 pounds in one year.

Originally from Cameroon, Africa Yoon née Engo now lives on Oʻahu. She came to the United States as the 6-year-old daughter of the United Nations ambassador from Cameroon and a global activist.

Africa Yoon
"The Korean: Single and Obese: Then Kimchi Changed Everything!"

Yoon just published a book called “The Korean: Single and Obese: Then Kimchi Changed Everything!” She said she wasn’t always heavy, but at one point a number of years ago, she found herself working hard, eating without thinking — and realized that she had put on more than 100 pounds over five years.

A turning point came in the form of an interaction with an elderly Korean woman at a Korean bakery in New Jersey where Yoon was trying a baked delight — with cream inside — momentarily forgetting her diplomatic upbringing.

"I was eating this bread in a very undiplomatic fashion. Cream was all over and I forgot that I was in public. And all of a sudden, I hear somebody say, 'You are too fat!'" Yoon recalled. "I turn around and I see this very tiny Korean grandmother. So I'm trying to swallow my pride and everything."

"I said to her, 'Well since you know what I shouldn't eat, what do you think that I should eat?' And she said Korean food," Yoon said. "She helped me, and we went grocery shopping with each other that day and many Sundays after church thereafter, and in a year I had lost 110 pounds."

Korean food also took her deeper into Korean culture, a path that eventually led her to marry a Korean man, both of them moving to Hawaiʻi two years ago. Several years before that, Yoon and her husband were on vacation on Maui and she said everything clicked for them.

"While my husband and I were there, I was having all these connections to Hawaiʻi because it was reminding me of Cameroon. My husband, who grew up in the Midwest was having all these bells going off, being exposed to Asian culture," Yoon told Hawaiʻi Public Radio. "We said, 'Wow, we could live here. This is so us, right?'"

Immediately after that stretch in Hawaiʻi came time in other places from Busan in South Korea to Minnesota. When she and her family did relocate two years ago, she was grateful not only for her husband and herself, but also for her children.

"I'm able to give my kids the African upbringing that I had growing up in Cameroon, that I wouldn't have been able to do anywhere else," she said. "It's just a beautiful thing for them to be able to be in Hawaiʻi and be hapa. I mean is there anywhere else better to be hapa than Hawaii? No."

This interview aired on The Conversation on Nov. 23, 2021.

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