EPISODE 012: Asking What is Identity - A Lifelong Search Connected to Adoption, Gastronomy, Whisky Distilling, and Historic Reenactment


In this week’s episode, Jason O’Donnell opens up about his journey as an adopted son. He says his life has a consistent theme of searching for identity, and he details that search with insight ranging from dealing with imposter syndrome while trying on different hats to discovering his birth family ancestry and heritage. 

In this candid conversation, Jason discusses his adoption story, how his adoptive heritage and culture has intermingled with his birth heritage and culture, and how his love for gastronomy and distilling whisky plays into his search for identity. He also attributes historic reenactment as playing a large role in the exploration of identity. 

Tune in to hear Jason’s positive perspective about the impact of being adopted - how adoption gave him more privilege, opportunity, and an abundance of love. Plus, Jason implores you to cook more - you’ll want to find out why.



  • Private adoption was negotiated prior to Jason’s birth between his birth mother and adoptive family.

  • Jason believes the court made the right call — there was no disruption in his life because of adoption. From day one, it was simply part of who he is.

  • Jason has never felt a hole in his life. He says: “It was as if I had more in life because of my adoption. Somehow, I lucked out and had even more loving and caring people than most.”

  • How Jason’s idea of home and feeling and home is impacted and how the meaning of home changes based on context.

  • Jason’s definition of family, including the realization at an early age that family doesn’t have to be strictly biological. We have the ability to choose.

  • The impact of parents and nature versus nurture.

  • How Jason’s adoptive parents were well equipped to nurture and encourage biological given talents.

  • The power of a name.

  • Identifying with an embracing culture, even if it’s not biological, and how it gives connection.

  • Jason met his birth mom when he was 38. He tells the story of how it happened.

  • How learning birth heritage was freeing -it opened a door to a new way of thinking about identity.

  • What is identity? Jason approaches this question from an inside-out view.

  • A chance meeting with his half-sister on Ancestry.com.

  • How gastronomy is a big indicator of our humanity in addition to empathy as a differentiator.

  • How adoptive and biological heritage blend through gastronomy and distilling.

  • Jason tells the story of how he became a whisky distiller for five years and resurrected a recipe from the 1600s (a pre-Victorian evolutionary predecessor to whisky).

  • How food and drink is a starting point for fighting racism through understanding other cultures.

  • A history of Three Drunken Celts - a tasting group focused on people, history, and learning.

  • The importance of research and learning.

  • How the SCA enhanced search for identity.


  • There is no one answer to identity - it will change over the course of time. Jason says, “Keep struggling, keep learning, keep asking questions. Know when to let go of identities that aren’t working for you. Your life will only benefit from diversity of new experiences.”

  • Cook more! You’ll find your humanity in the dishes you create as you bring other cultures into your own.


Brandi FleckComment