Even now, a year into the pandemic, I cannot disassociate a social event from food. Food has the power to bring a group of strangers together and converse over a warm meal.
Maybe it’s because this is my second year with the Sustainability Program, and I now see how much influence food has in my life. Program students this year joke that I put too much salt or no salt at all into my dishes. At the start of the semester that was true, but I have progressed since then. I am nowhere close to perfecting the salt ratio of my dishes. That comes with trial and error, observing other people cook, and developing my preferences.
Yet their jokes indicate the community aspect of cooking. They know the challenges I face when cooking, but they also know my strengths. The same goes for all of them. At the beginning of the program we knew little about each other but it only took two weeks to feel comfortable living together. Cooking provides a connection between us. On-campus we all have our septate friend groups, classes, and club interests but cooking on-site allows us to strengthen friendships with each other.
Every week students pair up and cook a meal for the house. Most meals take three hours - from preparation to cleaning-up. Students use this time to take a mental break from classes and stop staring at our screens. Some days we have too much work to do, and meals are simple, like pasta with a garlic-butter sauce and vegetables. On days when we have more time, we make masa from scratch using corn grown on-site and then into tortillas or cornbread.
We’ll talk, play music, sing, or dance while cooking - depending on our energy levels. Sometimes we are battling fatigue - and just need good music or quiet time to focus on cutting vegetables. Other times we are laughing over the bland soup that we are trying desperately to make flavorful. Any way you look at it students value cooking time as a break from weekly stressors and check in with other students in the house.
For meals, we run downstairs to eat together and talk about our day, play games, or sometimes have a quiet dinner. It is nice to share a space with people and know you’re part of a community no matter what personal challenges you face.
To me sharing a meal means to appreciate: the ingredients and work that went into it, the lessons learned, and the people you sit around. The memories I have from Sustainability Program meals I will treasure. I will continue to value community through food and strengthen my own throughout my life. To share food is to care for others and yourself.