“What’s the first thing you’re going to eat once you get back to Oxford?”
My friends and I sat around a crowded table in a cramped, psychedelically-colored bar in Peru, impatiently awaiting a return to our favorite foods that didn’t require extra caution to consume. Peruvian food and kitchen hygiene had certainly put most of our digestive systems through the wringer.
We went around the circle and named our favorites: Charra, Bagel, Skipper’s burgers, mac bites. When they got to me, I struggled to think of what I missed most.
“Honestly, I really just miss Starbucks iced chai lattes,” I finally decided.
There was a collective groan.
“You could get those here if there were a Starbucks, though,” one of them pointed out.
“Yeah, but it’s not the same,” I said.
And it’s not. There’s an extra layer of comfort whenever I have an iced chai while sitting at a high-top chair in one of the campus Starbucks locations that cannot be replicated anywhere else. When I was a freshman with few friends and a lot of time to kill, I’d walk to the Maple Street Station Starbucks location and set up shop to do homework for hours in the unique solitude of being surrounded by others.
Now, I sometimes do the same thing when I feel homesick or sad, despite the fact that I now have friends and very little free time. It feels like coming home.
There are a lot of foods that now have this added layer of nostalgia to them because they’ve been a part of my undergrad experience. There’s the green, eggs and ham bagel (sub the ham for bacon) that I always get whenever my younger brother asks me to take him to breakfast on the weekends. Or the southwest chicken salad from Skippers that always gets me a “Who the hell orders a salad at a bar?” and a wink from one of the owners that often works the grill. Or the cinnamon rolls from either Kofenya or the farmer’s market, that my housemate, Kirby, and I document our consumption of on her cinnamon roll Instagram in the hopes of someday being as cool as Lorde and her onion ring one.
Hot dogs and popcorn have a place of honor as the optimal bar food, as designated by both Side, New and my friend group. And so do pretzel rods, which we’ve probably consumed pitchers of from O'Pub at this point.
I’ll never be able to make a bowl of guacamole without thinking of my friends, fighting to get their chips into the bowl among the tangle of each other’s arms and always declaring, “This one is your best one yet, Brunn.”
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And I’ll never be able to look at a pan of mashed potatoes the same way after communally smashing a batch with Tim, Ceili, Kate and others as we took out our end of the semester stress on a pan for Friendsgiving last fall.
I told my cousin about how my housemates and I often take turns cooking meals for one another, and it’s a rare occasion when we don’t end up eating our meals together.
“You’re kidding me,” she said, incredulous. “You guys actually do that? I don’t even share groceries with my housemates.”
Food obviously has the ability to bring people together in a culturally-universal way, but I think it has an extra power when it comes to kids who have been thrown into a world unlike anything they’ve ever known before. The meals I’ve shared with everyone — from the whole Miami Student staff to my best friends — have all brought us together when college can often feel fractured and chaotic.
From those moments spent together around a shared meal to the moments spent alone, surrounded by the din of the 16,000 other people on this campus, I’ve found a way to feel restored. I know without a doubt I’ll miss those when I’ve graduated and am no longer able to find my usual seat, iced chai in hand.