the magazine of the columbia daily spectator
May 1 2013
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April 27 2013
Alternatives to Butler
April 19 2013
Red Bull and relaxation
April 17 2013
Back to the kitchen: A short journey through sexist pop culture
April 12 2013
Bikinis and big booties, y’all
April 8 2013
Azealia Banks Did What?
April 5 2013
More stories from Columbia’s military veterans
April 3 2013
Sing, O Muse, of some sappy story
April 1 2013
Missed the Cliterary Open Mic? Check out the highlights here
March 29 2013
Sex & Low Beach
Bagels with cream cheese, cottage cheese, grilled cheese, Red Bull and rosé wine, chocolate chip cookies and chocolate chip ice cream, chocolate cupcakes and caramel lattes, Clif Bars and heading to bars for fully liquid meals. Copied from the anonymous food diaries of Columbia students—including my own—these surprisingly candid confessionals offer an intimate peek into college life. Keeping a food diary for even a single day can reveal dietary idiosyncrasies and long-standing eating habits: formal meals and shameful snacks share space on the same page. If recorded faithfully, food diaries provide insight into how food comes to define everyday existence. For Columbia students, these diaries sketch the remarkable invasion of eating into already overcrowded lives. In a metropolis of rising food costs and shrinking kitchen space, Columbia students scavenge and scrounge their way to sustenance between classes.
As pale sunlight streams into dorm rooms across campus, students begin preparing patchwork breakfasts. One girl downs five espresso shots with whole milk and “the biggest grapefruit you’ve ever seen” to start off the day. But for mere mortals, breakfast involves moderate caffeine intake and enough carbohydrates to subdue morning hunger pangs. After my run, I eat an oatmeal walnut Kashi GoLean Roll. At Columbia, New York brunches are for weekends; efficiency is of the essence, and just cramming food into sleep-swollen mouths feels difficult enough without waiting for an order of eggs Benedict.
For lunch, some surveyed students head to Westside Market for sandwiches and salad. Entirely Westside-sourced, whole wheat bread with sliced chipotle turkey and swiss toasted on the stove and melted inside brightens one senior’s afternoon. “Having a full kitchen is definitely the best way to eat what you like inexpensively at college,” this student writes. At noon, she “[comes] back from class and [makes] a delicious three egg omelet with sharp vermont cheddar cheese, baby spinach, and mushrooms.” Those less equipped defer to campus dining facilities for convenience. From Uris Hall, spicy chicken wraps eaten in full “not because I was hungry but because it smelled and I didn’t want to absorb the smell by carrying it around,” to Café 212’s grilled chicken and bacon sandwiches (“out of nostalgia”)—quick and easy makes a difference during the mid-day rush. Barnard’s mandatory meal plan forces one strong woman to brave the Diana Center Café’s chicken dumplings, deemed “pretty good.” Unfortunately, “they have been promising Asian noodle bowls for weeks now but so far they have not materialized.” For my lunch, I demolish the Acuna Matada—Arizona chicken salad, melted Muenster, tomato, and hot peppers on a hero—from Hamilton Deli. Currently, I’m trying to complete the “Tour de Hamdel,” eating every combination hero that Hamdel offers. While the sandwich sounds horrendous, it doesn’t taste terrible.
Navigating the Hamilton Hall stairs burns enough calories to necessitate afternoon snacks. In a laconic ode to her snacks, a student writes, “Häagen-Dazs chocolate chip ice cream. Fulfilled craving. Pint $5 (I didn’t eat the whole thing, don’t worry).” Ms. five espresso shots drinks a 16-ounce Red Bull to bridge the lunch-dinner gap. Raisinets, beer, and Lebanese nuts round out a female junior’s afternoon. As for me, I have a honey-flavored Chobani Greek Yogurt. Two hours later, I eat a piece of wheat bread with peanut butter and a serving of Utz’s Everything Pretzels.
Dinner time lets students relax from busy schedules. A Barnard senior who goes directly from her internship to class Monday evenings takes a break later for “leftover spinach and potato gnocchi [her] suitemate and [she] made Sunday night. [They] have a share in the Morningside Community Supported Agriculture ($20 a week for three people) and [have] a ton of potatoes and spinach to use up.” Roommates cohabitate and cook for each other, as one student’s roommate makes “miso dinner [miso brown rice with soy beans, parsley, cucumbers, and broccoli]...spicy and eaten over a conversation about human rights.” Of course, the food itself occasionally merits conversation, like a “weird tuna fish sandwich with cajun spices and a makeshift tunamelt in a mini fajita all topped off with an instant-bake cookie.” I buy a barbacoa burrito with spicy salsa, lettuce, corn relish, and guacamole at Chipotle.
Meals never stop in Morningside Heights though, with students attending social and cultural events deep into the evening during the week. CrackDel’s spicy special satisfies a computer programmer at 2:30 a.m., while an Austrian junior chooses “warm ovaltine (chinese-branded, european-style). To help make [me] sleepy, but also because it’s from childhood).”
While eating habits at Columbia seem as diverse as the student body, one trend unifies disparate dishes: a desire for maximum taste and minimum price. Living on a student budget poses unique challenges for eating healthily, and more importantly, eating well. And with the pressures of schoolwork and the world beyond the gates bearing down, students try to strike a balance between reasonable nutrition, comfort, and convenience. Rendering a day’s eating into words demonstrates the deeply personal relationships growing adults forge with food. Whether celebrating deliciousness in its multiplicity or lamenting another boring sandwich, food diaries illuminate the connections between daily experience and eating. Despite whatever appears in that food diary, tomorrow always provides a chance to change eating habits for the better.
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