Some eat to live and some live to eat, and it seems that the Colorado College campus community falls overwhelmingly into the latter category. Students leave house parties for free pancakes, have a Facebook page devoted to finding leftovers, and will wait in a 20-minute line for a grilled cheese at the Preserve on Friday. United by the common cause of procrastination, we linger over lunches and dinners, plan weekends around brunch, and are tempted to attend speakers and club meetings by promises of pizza or burritos. We are unusually involved in the management of our food service, with students participating in the Bon Appétit food audit and Colorado Springs Food Rescue, either advocating for or challenging Meatless Mondays, and seeking local dairy and produce.
Eating together fosters human connection. The fact that we share the unusually intimate act of fueling our own bodies by consuming our own earth is, I think, one of the most powerful indicators of trust in our day-to-day lives. The people we chose to eat with at the beginning of our first year of college became our substitutes for the families or friends we grew up with; they were our first support networks here at school. Catching up over a meal can reconnect old friends. Walking to lunch after class offers an opportunity to continue academic discussions. There is a reason people describe food in almost sexual terms, using language we’d never consider for most of our other frequent activities. Can you imagine anyone describing walking to class as “orgasmic”?
I believe firmly in the power of communal eating, which is why I worry that despite CC’s food-centric culture, we aren’t doing enough to make eating on campus inclusive. Look around in Rastall or any of the dining options at CC, and you’ll see large groups of similar-looking people sitting together. After our New Student Orientation trips and First Year Experiences, we stop mingling and separate ourselves into friend groups segregated by race and gender. We make eating aggressively social; walking into a meal alone is so terrifying that I prefer to wait outside of Rastall for a friend than spend a few minutes sitting by myself, and that I invariably check my phone in the two minutes it takes to get coffee in the library. In doing so, we transform eating from a platform of growth and interaction to one of reliance. The power of shared food to forge connections is lost if we wall ourselves off from people to connect with.
Meanwhile, we turn a blind eye to the added pressure eating so publicly can put on students who have struggled with eating disorders, weight gain or loss, body image stress, or other anxieties related to eating. There are more students subject to this than our happy walks to midnight breakfasts might suggest. Saying things as simple as “I can’t believe I ate so much” or “I’m so full” might be off-handed in the moment but still prompt others to compare themselves to those statements. At Rastall in particular, it’s hard to serve yourself without feeling like everyone is watching what you put on your plate. Students who, like me, find it challenging to eat alone, end up compromising what works best for their body with what their friends’ habits are. If communal eating is a display of trust, then judging what or how much anyone should or shouldn’t eat violates that. At the same time, in such a public setting, it’s dangerously easy for eating disorders to go unaddressed.
Moreover, by bribing students to attend events with free food, we undercut the importance of the event itself. While a sit-down meal with a professor or activist could spark illuminating conversation, crowding around a table for free sandwiches then taking off halfway through a presentation diminishes the value of what students take away from the experience. Rather than working with a speaker, food too often works against them. Much like with our segregated lunch tables, we nullify the unifying power of the meal.
I love food, and I love that CC students love food, but let’s allow it to create new relationships and start more conversations, not reinforce exclusivity.