There’s a beauty about food and writing about food that feels quietly understated. It’s something so simple, so innocuous, so everyday — and I think that’s what’s part of the appeal to me. It offers reprieve from weightier subjects, to get to revel in something so uncomplicated and community-oriented. Writing for On the Menu has been a joy and an aspect of my college experience that I will miss greatly. I think a large part of this is because it has been such an extension of so many other of my experiences here — my friends and I had a delightful “Friendsgiving” together, and I got to commemorate the multitude of experiences we lived through that night in the form of an article. The clink of our glasses, the smell of roasted garlic, the laughs we shared in between bites can be reduced down into a collection of recipes, shared with the world now, made ready for someone else to experience with different friends in a different room with different silverware. For all its variability, through cultures and techniques, recipe substitutions and rookie chef mistakes — the defining constant in cooking is this simple kind of love. Sharing a meal together is, to me, a celebration of friendships, family, culture and history. And we get to do it every day!
This is what I’ve loved so much about writing for On the Menu, and getting the privilege of reading all of the other published articles as well. For something so simple, food and people’s experiences with it are highly unique. There is so much to learn about food and so much to share as well; On the Menu provides a student-based medium for doing that. On the Menu helped me pick a restaurant to go to when my mom visited town (we went to The Blue Owl, by the way, and it was delicious); it also taught me what fonio is (the answer: a West African grain with a pleasant fluffy texture that offers a sustainable alternative to conventional grain farming). Other writers at On the Menu shared the best vegan cheeses at the I.V. Food Co-op, an incredible recipe for fried green tomatoes and a surprisingly emotional essay about ratatouille. Each one of these articles has moved and impacted me, from the more benign decision of buying vegan cheese to reflecting on the value of friendship; each story, experience and flavor shared has mattered. For me personally, On the Menu has been an invaluable outlet for everything from sharing my favorite cookie recipe to addressing the relationship between our food system and climate change to honoring and remembering my father who has passed on. Food is whatever you want it to be; that’s what makes it so special. It’s simple, fun and silly. It’s quick and easy or it’s a labor of love. It’s the glue between family and culture. It’s what keeps us alive, both as sustenance for the body and the spirit.
I guess that’s sort of the kicker then. I keep referring to food as simple, and I really think that it is or that it should be. Yet at the same time, it’s a subject that is so nuanced and complicated. As an environmental studies major, I’ve primarily focused my studies and research on food systems and regenerative agriculture. This is a field of study that has brought me both great despair and unparalleled hope. The way conventional agriculture is practiced both in the U.S. and globally is reckless and harmful to our ecosystems, watersheds, climate and ourselves. Comparably harmful is the way food production and distribution are handled once crops are grown: there are countless disparities in access to healthy and fresh food. Cultural foods are often made inaccessible or shamed or ignored in the larger media. In my first year as an environmental studies major, I was quite disillusioned with the practice of agriculture, which, as I had learned it, pretty much exclusively caused harm to our planet. However, regenerative farming actually has an untapped potential to do great things, from restoring topsoil to sequestering carbon to vastly improving the health and nutrition of those who participate in our food system.
I see food not just as a pedestrian, everyday activity but as a point of origin for a better future. Food is an opportunity to heal our planet and ecosystems. It’s an invaluable nexus of family, culture and identity. It’s a way to take agency over our health and well-being. It’s my favorite way to express my love for someone. In my time writing for On the Menu, I’ve sincerely valued the opportunity to share my recipes and words and feel honored and humbled to have read about so many incredible meals and stories. I will miss it dearly.
A version of this article appeared on p. 10 of the June 1, 2023 version of the Daily Nexus.