Eating can be an individual experiences—food choices may reflect personal convictions as well as economic limitations, and calories might be counted to achieve weight loss goals. But eating can also be a collective act, undertaken by a group of people at the same time to affirm unity and a shared identity. During my spring break trip this March, I especially felt the connecting ability of food and food preparation. We rented a beach house in the Outer Banks for the week, and as 14 of us Tufts seniors piled in our cars for the 14 hour drive from Boston to North Carolina, I think even the most optimistic of parents had their doubts—will they trash the house? will they eat junkfood all week? will they be at bars every night? I admit, I didn’t know what to expect. But I was pleasantly surprised by the result of our combined skills and interests—a communal dinner every night that showcased our own individual identities (ethnic, culinary, or otherwise) while affirming a common one.
Each dinner had a sort of theme: Mexican, seafood, grill, and flatbread pizza, to name a few. We had vegetable tempura the way one friend’s parents learned to make it in China, key lime pie from a secret family recipe, and oysters caught by a few of us in the bay. The food was very local, in the sense that it came from nearby waters (in the case of the fresh seafood) or the grocery store down the street (where the produce was actually grown, I’m not sure). But international influences were also strong, either from family heritage or learned preferences (I’ve never been to Mexico, but I love fajitas). A different group of us cooked together each night to produce multiple courses to feed everyone, and we all sat down together in the dining room (this beach house was huge and behemoth table accommodated everyone) to eat.
Out of everything we did over the course of the week, these moments were my favorite—looking down the table at some of my closest friends, getting closer with people I didn’t know well by cooking with them, and feeling the accomplishment of preparing a well-received meal. Cooking and eating together was an occasion to share recipes, stories, and memories. For me, spring break crystallized the ability of food to bring people together and the powerful connections we form to others as well as our own heritage through cooking and eating.