She walked up from the Bingham basement and outside into the crisp, April air. One of her hands was buried in her overcoat — she seemed to be clutching something, concealing something. It must have been illicit. Why else would she be hiding it? I called out to her: “What do you have under there?” She turned, winked and spread out her arms, revealing the hidden substance. What was she hiding? Coke, and lots of it.
No, dear Yalie, not the kind of coke you’re dreaming of. I’m talking about Coca-Cola — fizzy water, pop, Coke, depending on your regional dialect. My friend explained that she bought her soda in the basement so she could get back to her dorm quickly, before anyone saw her. So great was her fear of the judgement of her peers, for drinking soda of all things, that she deemed covert action to be the only path possible.
I’d be lying if I said that I was surprised. My own personal experience with the optics of food at Yale taught me that people will judge you by just about anything — even by what you eat and drink. I like Powerade. Sure, its nutritional value might be suspect, but it satiates my need for salt. Some people smoke like chimneys, others drink until they black out and I drink Powerade. We all have our vices.
“Powerade is fine if you’re an athlete or you’re sick, but other than that, it’s really bad for you,” a friend informed me. I was neither of those things, so it was clear what she was trying to say. “Wow, it’s so fluorescent. It looks like nuclear waste!” said another friend as I tipped my glass back. After a while, I grew tired of these comments, and I put down the Powerade bottle once and for all. I hated feeling judged at the dinner table.
I’m not the only one who feels this way. “I’d drink whatever I wanted if the cups weren’t clear,” said a classmate when I brought up the subject of this column early last week. Another told me that she’s even self-conscious about eating healthy food: “Since I’m someone who doesn’t normally eat salad, whenever I do, people always respond with awe. They’ll ask ‘Whoa, are you trying to be healthy,’ implying that I’m not healthy to begin with.”
How many times have you added a bit of lettuce or zucchini to your plate just to make sure that you’re not only eating chicken tenders or grilled cheese –– or rather, so that other people don’t think you’re only eating chicken tenders or grilled cheese? How many times have you not gotten more food or passed up dessert because of the judgement of your company? And how many times have you judged others for their food selection?
To live is to judge and be judged. But I find it incredibly sad that I have reasons to write this column. Judgement has crossed into a sort of holy site: the dinner table. I could spend more time explicating why you shouldn’t judge people for their food choices, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll just say that you should stop judging people based on their food choices. Not everyone grows up in a house where spa water or even just plain old water is the go-to liquid. Furthermore, I can’t count the number of times I’ve talked about Southern staples like chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, ham and bacon and hear people say “That’s disgusting” or “You might as well just eat a stick of butter” or something else along those lines. These criticisms are always tinged with a sense of superiority, both healthwise and classwise, which is a larger issue altogether. It goes without saying that being healthy is important, but let people live their lives. If drinking a soda once in a while is the worst thing they do, let them have at it. Everyone deserves some Coke once in a while.
Adrian Rivera is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. His column runs on alternate Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .