Connected by Cooking: How Our Daily Meals Play a Role in College Life

Story by Renae Sutton
Photo Courtesy of Flickr

Food is something that is easy to take for granted, especially when someone is doing the cooking for you. Now that most of us are away from home for the first time, we have to choose for ourselves what to eat. How we feed ourselves can be revealing; it can tell us the value we put on food, and what food means to us. Not every meal we eat has to be a statement of ourselves, but every now and then, we can use food for fulfillment.

Missing Home-cooked Meals
Making an effort to recreate meals from home can help connect us with the people and places we’ve left behind. Sharing that food can help connect us with our current surroundings.

Victoria Vitale, a freshman from Monroe, says that the food she misses most from home is shells stuffed with ricotta cheese. She considers herself a pretty good cook but she has never tried to recreate that meal in the dorms. It would be a hassle to go to the store to buy the ingredients, and finding the time to cook is an issue. Besides that, she lives on a multicultural floor in the dorms and she says the kitchens on her floor are always in use.

Zach Nowak, a senior from Macomb Township, has the luxury of cooking for himself all the time since he lives in an apartment with a kitchen. Nowak said that the dish he misses most from home is his mother’s roast beef and mashed potatoes. He has tried to recreate the dish here in his crock-pot, but he admits it comes in a distant second to his mother’s recipe. Whether he actually cooks it differently or not, Zach notes that food never tastes as good when you’re the one making it.

Other students, who have traveled to CMU from farther away, have different issues.

Often times, they cannot recreate their favorite foods when most Mount Pleasant grocery stores simply may not carry the right ingredients.

Antonio Gutierrez, a freshman from Chicago, said that the food he misses most from home is tacos. He doesn’t like the “Americanized” version of the taco with the hard shell. He likes the soft corn tortilla filled with mildly marinated steak. No tacos in Mount Pleasant come close to this, in his opinion. Even if he wanted to try to prepare it himself, he can’t find the right ingredients here.

Bridging the Gap Between People and Food
Food is an amazing equalizer. Everyone has to eat, and everyone appreciates good food. Talking with new friends about favorite foods, and sharing those foods are both great ways to connect the past to the present.

If you are like Victoria, you’d like to cook, but the dorm kitchens are always in use. But take that opportunity to discover new foods. Ask what’s cooking. Ask about the ingredients. Compliment their cooking skills. Listen to their story. Chances are, they are cooking a favorite childhood dish and would love to tell you all about it. Just because you took an interest, they may even let you have a taste.

If interrupting someone else’s cooking is not your style, then you need to be the one in the kitchen. Invite curious passers by to come in and see what you are cooking. Make something that smells amazing so more people will pass by and ask about it. Make enough to share; it’s a great way to make new friends and create memories.

If you’re like Zach and you’re having a hard time recreating a favorite recipe, ask for help. How do you think Zach’s mother would feel if he asked her to help him cook? It would make her day. Then, Zach can make the dish here for some friends and experience it anew.

Feeding the Body and the Soul
In our busy college lives when we are running from class to the library, then to the gym to home, it’s tempting to eat on the go. We tend to disconnect from our food and think of it simply as fuel. However, during these stressful times, eating favorite childhood foods is a grounding experience. It helps us remember who we are and where we came from. It helps us sink back into the familiar past while the unfamiliar fills the present.

When we invite others to share our favorite childhood foods, we bring the familiar into the unfamiliar. We create new memories by bringing the past into the present. And we may just make ourselves feel at home.