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Senior Column | Lustig ’23: Food as community

I wrote my Common App essay about food. There was no other topic so significant to me then, and though much has changed since, there’s still nothing I would rather write about as I reflect on these last four years. 

I thoroughly enjoy all kinds of cuisine. If I don’t have much to get done (or even if I do), I’ll plan my whole day around meals. And while food’s main attraction is usually its taste, it has come to represent something deeper to me: a vehicle for connecting with others. Whether through late-night Jo’s or the rare dinner off College Hill, I have seen food create and reinforce powerful bonds between diners — and, in turn, shape our Brown experiences.

“Can I sit here?” was one of the scariest questions we asked each other as college freshmen, but it was also one of the most worthwhile. If you saw any semi-familiar face in a dining hall (after a week or two, it didn’t take long to find one), odds are they gladly accepted you at their table. And though it was often tough to talk through bites of a burrito bowl, even a little conversation could spark new connections. 

After we established some preliminary relationships, shared meals brought up more shared experiences and allowed our bonds to grow. As a first-year, I was lucky enough to be in a class with two girls who lived on my floor. More fortunate, though, was that the class got out at noon, so we could all go to lunch together. Once we had thoroughly debriefed the highs and lows of that day’s lecture, we’d start to share previously unheard facts about ourselves, then amble upstairs to our respective rooms. Four years later, I share an apartment with those same girls, who have become some of my closest friends.


It was with people like these that I also discovered food as a form of therapy. Comfort food can be exactly that: a means of finding solace, particularly in the company of others. 

I have aired my fair share of grievances over McDonald’s fries and listened to roommates’ woes over the snapping of baby carrots. More often than not, we realized that we had all gone through something similar. And just as often, we learned about a new way to look at, handle or make peace with the challenge before us. It was through these meal sessions that I came to recognize snacking as generative. 

My time in college has taught me that listening to and learning from others is powerful. Doing so in a shared space adds yet another layer of meaning. Add in a colossal bag of veggie straws, distributed among six people on a dorm room floor, and you may have created a perfect medicine.

As my college friendships deepened over the years, conventional mealtime conversation was gradually replaced by kinetic, visceral joy — particularly during times of celebration. Discovery wasn’t necessary as we honored a holiday, achievement or end of a difficult week; instead, our laughter reinforced past realizations. We basked in familiarity, reminded of how much our campus communities meant to us.

Homemade food, like at a Brown Friendsgiving or spontaneous potluck, was specifically well suited for moments like these. Personal and vulnerable, cooking for someone else implies a profound connection between the chef and the recipients. In the end, these meals were celebrations of not only events but the intimacy of the moment.

I have found, however, that the ultimate form of intimacy comes when there’s nothing going on at all. Sometimes it’s late and you just need to place a big group order from Taco Bell because you’re hungry and crave some Crunchwraps. Sometimes you just need to zone out as you feast. The food, and your devotion to it, speaks for itself as you all finally allow yourselves to relax in each other’s company. 

If you’re lucky, this can become tradition — then each consequential meal can remind you of the last. Over the course of senior year, my house fully embraced the midnight meal: a weekly-ish ritual where we hardly talked but were amazingly present. These were among the few times when we could all gather together, and we made sure to savor each bite.

As our college careers come to a close, it can be difficult to imagine starting from scratch, attempting to forge relationships with people we don’t yet know. But while this food-centric roadmap has come to define my relationships at Brown, I know that it will extend far beyond College Hill. No matter where we are, who we meet or what we eat, sitting down for a meal can offer a nostalgic allure and the rare promise of finding truly meaningful connections.


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