Like light on the Hudson River, John Jay Dining Hall changes throughout the day. Subtle shifts create distinct moods. There’s the 9 a.m. tranquility of a weekday morning, the buzz of lunchtime activity, the strange experience of a 4 p.m. post-class snack break, and the heart-pounding anxiety of navigating crowds for dinner during a theme night. Over the course of its 11 and a half hours of operation, John Jay oscillates between extremities of peace and chaos.
Here, however, are a few dependable things: two slices of wheat bread from the sandwich and/or pastry station; a glob of peanut butter, pulled from the troughs at the station by the dining hall entrance; jewel-colored jelly, spread on thick. Together, they form a PB&J. Eaten at one of those too-small tables while sitting on one of those too stiff chairs, I call it a PB&John Jay.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are always fantastic (and if you don’t know why that’s true, then I can’t help you). I will argue, however, that the delicacy is most enjoyable when made and consumed in a college dining hall. Part of its magnificence is the slight thrill of transgression: I am 20 years old, and this is food for a child, but I’m eating it anyway. Also at play is the surprise of encountering the handmade, the rustic, in the industrious bustle of New York and Columbia. Finally—perhaps most importantly—the sandwich is exquisitely consistent. It offers stability in an unhinged world.
Peanut butter is unchanging. Its gluiness now is the same as it was after soccer practice in fourth grade; grape jelly has always bordered on saccharine. I can’t imagine what vendors provide Columbia Dining with the massive amounts of peanut butter necessary to keep those vats at the nut station stocked, but I don’t really care. It tastes like I expect it to—peanut butter is peanut butter is peanut butter.
There are few things as dependable as that; so much of life on campus is characterized by variability. Each semester, we turn over our interests and commitments and create new schedules. Every month, I’m hooked on a different Spotify playlist. Weekly, hundreds of pages of diverse readings get shoved into our heads and we dutifully recreate them in class, struggling to hold on to the streams of information just until the next exam. In the midst of these waves, I’m worried about my grades and I’m worried about forming good habits and I’m worried about whether I’ll throw my new wool sweater in the dryer and shrink it.
Making this sandwich is something I know how to do. The raw materials are waiting for me in exchange for a meal swipe, and I don’t think I could mess the recipe up if I tried. I know that these items will taste good together. I know that I can make them taste good together. And then I can sit down in the middle of John Jay and enjoy what I’ve made.
Enjoy leafing through our fourth issue!