Jaclyn Torres: Finding friendship through food

Guest Columnist
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
This article is part of the series Commencement Magazine 2017

You can learn a lot about a person over a meal. My best friends at Brown share my love of food and, in many cases, a similar eating schedule.

Every fall, I cherish the inaugural dinner of the semester, before classes start and when the only people in the dining halls are athletes and students participating in orientation programs. The meal celebrates the start of preseason and the return of hang-out sessions across the various dining halls on campus.

My first friendships at Brown, those with my teammates, were built through hours of conversation at the V-dub, sitting around a circular table after a long day of field hockey. Sometimes the only energy we had we poured into fueling our bodies for the next day. The only sound was the clink of utensils against bowls and plates, the thud of a cup against the wooden surface. Other times we rehashed the day and discussed what we were looking forward to that semester.

Slowly, our meals came to revolve around conversations about classes, our likes and dislikes, our hopes and goals both short-term and long-term. The depth of our meal conversations did not happen overnight, nor did we realize the strength of our friendship until the end of the semester when finals hit and free time became limited. As I sat in the absolute quiet room of the Rock late one night, I experienced a profound sense of loss. I had been too busy to meet up with friends for meals and instead had eaten alone while analyzing a text or writing a paper.

A few weeks later, I felt whole again. Three teammates and I sat around a circular table discussing what transpired over winter break. To a stranger, our conversation would have seemed mundane — the classic retelling of the day, discussion of the time spent apart — but I soaked in every detail, refusing to part with the stories that I lived through vicariously. It was in that moment that I understood the importance of sharing a meal with friends.

I cherish meals with friends both for the verbal and the nonverbal conversation. Most days, a simple glance or a comical people-watching moment prompts a fit of laughter in my friends and me that only subsides after a serious ab workout and tears running down our cheeks. Sometimes, meals soothe the frustration of a poor grade or a tense relationship. It is simply having someone to sit next to you and spend time with you that makes the dining experience worth it.

More than through just the content of the conversation, I have come to understand the nuances of my friends’ personalities through dining with them. A meal can reveal a person’s sense of adventure or how they handle stress; it can bring to light their degree of introversion or extroversion. Some of the traits might be considered extraneous to knowing a person, like the fact that one of my friends is obsessed with olives and will eat them with anything, and another has a penchant for pairing cereal with ice cream or peanut butter depending on the day. These little preferences are important to me and make for an unforgettable meal.

My four years at Brown were shaped by mealtime. Every day was a new experience, and every meal provided me with comfort, hope and refuge. I am going to deeply miss the long conversations over dining-hall meals, but I will always have my friends to reminisce on those memories with me and create new ones in the next place I call home.