What’s on the Menu? Food and Culture on the International Space Station

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

In honor of Asian American and Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, learn about the intersection of food and culture in space from 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:

This is our kitchen. You might notice there’s all sorts of foods here. It’s like opening the refrigerator, you got all your different stuff that you want to have.

Food in the Indian culture is super important. It is like the time of course when everybody gathers but it means so much to have somebody prepare food for somebody else and give it to them as a gift.

At the JC space food systems laboratory, we develop, process, package, and supply the majority of the food on ISS for US OS crew members.

So we have all this type of food. Some of it is dehydrated and so we have to hydrate it, fill it up with water. Some of it is already made, and then all we have to do is heat it up.

Food on the ISS is sort of an example of the many cultures that come and live on the International Space Station.

Among the standard menu, there are about 10 percent of main dishes that are inspired by Asian culture. They bring a unique flavor profile and allow ways to compensate for the low sodium requirement we have to meet. This adds to the variety to the food system.

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

There is a popular Chinese proverb <chinese> which means that food is most important to the people.

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

So meal time on the ISS is a little bit varied, but really the most important meal in my mind is dinner. Because that’s really at the close of the day. Everybody’s sort of winding down. Everyone can eat dinner together which is really nice. Sharing food from maybe your family or your culture and telling each other about where it came from when you experienced it and what that means to you and your family.

NASA celebrates Asian American and Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

AstronautCultureFood ScienceInternational Space Station