SIEGEL: End the focus on food

If you read this, you’ll get a cookie.

Well, not actually. But that was the type of promise made in an attempt to lure freshmen into events and lectures in the first few weeks of school. Events were advertised with a focus on the food, not the substance.

When I arrived on campus a month ago, it was no surprise that much of the welcome wagon revolved around refreshments: fresh-baked cookies in my froco’s room, bite-sized snacks at extracurricular open houses, a freshman dinner where we were served plates of vegan ravioli. As the weeks wore on, I continued to get emails advertising everything from late-night study breaks to Master’s Teas. Just browsing through my inbox, I’m reminded of last week’s “Sushi in the Sukkah,” quesadilla night with fellow Sillifrosh and a grilled cheese and tomato soup study break in the chaplain’s office.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t need the incentive of quesadillas to hang out with my froco on a Saturday night. I was genuinely interested in a talk on social challenges for autistic children before I found out there would be brownies and cider handed out at the door. I was even thinking about attending a recent Silliman Activities & Administrative Committee meeting long before I got an email that opened with the question: “Do you love free food?” Yes, I do. But I love Silliman too, and I would have gone to the meeting without the promise of food.

I’ll admit that I have reasons for being more sensitive to the emphasis on food than the average college student. I have a long history of digestive health issues that make eating a less-than-pleasurable experience. It is often painful for me to get down three meals a day because of my significant dietary restrictions. While I do not expect those around me to put away the pretzels just because I’m in the room, it is disheartening for me to receive invitations to lectures that emphasize the food more than the featured speaker. I have even been discouraged from attending certain events because I was concerned that I would be tempted by the food being served.

There will always be certain occasions, like the freshman holiday dinner, when food is essential in creating a festive atmosphere. Most other times, however, we should make an effort to steer the focus at social gatherings away from food. I have no doubt that Monday’s Master’s Tea would have been just as successful without the brownies and cider served to guests. It seems fair to assume that Community Health Educators would still have had a record number of applicants this year if they had nixed the boxes of Insomnia Cookies at the organization’s info session. And I would even be willing to bet that Slifka’s Sukkah-decorating party would have drawn just as many students even without the make-your-own candy apple station just outside.

At times I have wondered if the only real solution is for me, and others like me, to accept the reality that food will always play a role in social settings. I push myself to adopt the attitude that the company of others is just as sweet as the treats being served. I know that there are plenty of foods I can eat to make up for those I have to turn down, and I realize that I am not the first to have to say “no thank you” to that platter of chips and guac.

Because of my health constraints, I have learned to seek pleasure through means other than food. But I still struggle to keep smiling when I’m at an event where all my friends are cutting into Claire’s cake. I also know that there are countless others on campus with food restrictions — people with health issues, allergies and diets who share my struggle. We could all benefit from a little less emphasis on the food at social gatherings and a little more focus on what brought us to the event in the first place.

Just some food for thought.

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