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The hidden language of food

Finding comfort in the social organization of food, whether that be through carbs or laughter

<p>Sarah Kim is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.</p>

Sarah Kim is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

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Being on Grounds seemed like the best line of attack on the sluggish Zoom school days that blurred the end of the previous semester with the start of the current one. I heavily relied on the justification that coming in close proximity to the University this year would snap me out of my glaze-eyed funk. With some disappointment, I feel that I can make the claim that being back on Grounds hasn’t provided much of a discernable difference in productivity. Instead, each and every passing week feels like a distant memory. Each week is defined as its own small era with its own individualized mix of stress, joy and outlandish experiences. 

Key highlights of being on Grounds again include shivering in a parking garage tapping air bubbles out of my saliva and being barred from almost all social interactions due to others’ irresponsibility. The wacky pseudo-spring weather also deserves an honorable mention. Its alternating periods of snow and warmth have revealed my hatred for sand-and-salt-filled shoes and desperation for actual spring. What remained constant, however, were the feelings surrounding online school as asynchronous classes have become more disengaging than ever. 

Along with these elements, I thought my on-Grounds experience would be worsened by the stereotypical eating habits of an independent college student — a colorless, subsistence diet consisting of ready-made meals and a pervasive,  “ramen-and-cereal-will-have-to-do” kind of mentality for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I felt a deep dread when considering how to incorporate the time-consuming prep work required for a proper meal into a packed school schedule. 

Amidst the fluctuating periods of agitation and restlessness, food surprisingly became my primary source of peace. It is not exactly the act of eating that relaxes me, but rather the gastronomic adventures I’ve shared with my roommates in our cramped kitchen space. The time we have spent prepping, eating and laughing while basking in the warm glow of the small bistro lights strung in the living room have become something that I look forward to every evening.

Learning to live in an apartment with friends is a long, complicated process. It takes time to fully gauge their idiosyncrasies, and it takes even longer to learn more about each person’s more hidden side of themselves. Yet food has revealed my roommates’ individual preferences, traditions and memories more than anything else. While savoring our mothers’ peppery chicken adobo — a popular Filipino braised chicken dish — and banchan — Korean side dishes — natural dialogues about our families flowed and sealed our bonds of friendship.

One could say that they’ve also changed me as a person by helping me channel my dormant Gen Z lifestyle during the COVID-19 isolation — especially since the Internet has become the driving connectivity force that requires one to be extra vigilant when keeping up with the latest social media trend. I’ve been jokingly labeled as off-the-grid for the lack of social media in my life. My roommates have insisted on teaching me and expanding my “social capital,” or sense of relatability to and awareness of the greater population, around the table. To be frank, I’ve been in a constant state of confusion ever since my friends started speaking in what seems to be a ceaseless stream of TikTok and meme references. Although I’m only just beginning my acquaintance with the app, I must say that I’m at least appreciative of the Gigi Hadid pasta and Asian peanut noodle recipes that came from it.

When we roast vegetables, stress-bake or eat our dinners in silence as we ruminate on our own worries, my roommates and I collectively build our sense of home. A sense of home founded on our strengthening relationships through cooking and eating in each other's presences and our acceptances of one another, without any words needed to be spoken as we eat. A home that smells of jasmine rice and spring breezes. A home that is filled with the sounds of hearty laughter and passing trains. 

The spiritual element of home must also not be overlooked. Many of us are already aware of the maxim, “Home is where the heart is.” The heart is shaped by the people you have come to cherish and those that you truly wish the best for — the people you hope to celebrate accomplishments and failures with, throw small parties for and shamelessly belt songs with. Cooking dinners and experiencing new flavors with my roommates have helped me to achieve an overall intimate, optimal level of friendship with memories shared between just our house.  

This semester may be the last opportunity for us to share quality time with our roommates. Once some kind of normalcy returns, it will only be a matter of time until our lives accelerate at a dizzying pace and once-familiar faces that we used to live with become strangers we pass by without a greeting. However, we should try to remember that we don’t have to be out and about to de-stress. Cooking up a meal with friends at home or ordering takeout can be sources of much-needed relaxation and joy. If there is one thing quarantine has taught us, it’s that companionship, good food and the ambience of home are the things that really make a difference in our daily lives. 

Sarah Kim is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at