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Living in another country for the past two years has allowed me to reflect on how U.S. culture (especially in New York) is hyper-individualized, especially in terms of eating meals. In New York, this culture can be seen in chain restaurants’ packaging being designed for food to be taken to-go. While I’ve seen Starbucks in other countries offer ample seating and mugs to sit down and enjoy your coffee “café-style,” Starbucks in the United States does not even offer mugs, while chains such as Sweetgreen and Chipotle automatically make your food to-go so that you can eat it while you’re in your next meeting or doing other activities.

In the United States, we often see productivity in terms of work completed. How much work did you get done today? This week? While the American work ethic and the spirit of high productivity are world-renowned, time and time again we fail to consider the idea that taking care of ourselves—physically and physiologically—is equally important to our productivity as the work we accomplish. Socialization is important for all humans, especially on college campuses, where students are under immense amounts of pressure and are facing difficult challenges in their personal lives. Some days are packed beginning-to-end for students, and meals and studying are scheduled in tandem. A simple time slot of 30 minutes to sit down with friends or coworkers could be the only non-business socialization that we have left in our schedules. Why throw it away?

While many people enjoy the solitude and independence of having a meal alone (and sometimes it is the most “reasonable” choice, as author Karlton Gaskin, CC ’23, puts it), normalizing eating too many meals alone encourages the U.S. mentality of under-valorizing the importance of social connections and their impact on our productivity as college students.

As someone who lives off-campus, most of my meals at night are spent alone in my apartment, which is the reality for many young professionals after college. Our college campus is one where proximity and dining programs make it easier than it will ever be for us to grab a meal with our peers. So text your new friends, old friends, classmates, or roommates to take a study break and spend a meal together this week.

The author is a senior at Barnard College studying Latin American studies with a concentration in Portuguese, currently writing her thesis on the emerging role of Reggaetón music in mainstream U.S. popular music. If you would like to discuss how Justin Bieber’s remix of “Despacito” represents colonial narratives, talk about cognitive linguistics of romance languages, or grab lunch, you can reach her at all2200@barnard.edu.

To respond to this letter, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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