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Tina Wang / Staff Illustrator

Food has the power to bring us together. It’s the foundation of holidays and family reunions, the companion of first dates and late-night study sessions, the tradition passed down from generation to generation. Over a good meal, friendships are made, conflicts are resolved, and worries are forgotten. Some of my favorite memories were made with delicious food and people I love—baking blueberry pie with my grandmother, cooking a “fancy” dinner with my best friends, going out to eat at a special restaurant for my parents’ anniversary.

But what I’ve come to appreciate more and more over my first semester-and-a-half at Columbia is practically the opposite—eating by myself.

I don’t mean the many meals during the week that are squeezed in between classes and double as study time or a chance to catch up on emails and social media. What I’m talking about here is something else entirely—a party of one at a sit-down restaurant, no cellphone or homework assignment in sight.

On a dark and stormy night this past fall, I was walking through Little Italy, weighed down by gifts to take home over winter break. Hungry and unwilling to get on the subway with an empty stomach, I wandered along Mulberry Street, peering into each storefront.

I looked for a kind of coffee shop or takeout restaurant, somewhere fast and informal, where I would be among other people eating with one hand and scrolling through their phones with the other. But I didn’t find a place like that, and my search ended stepping into the canvas vestibule of a small, rosy restaurant, inhabited by a few pairs of people and one trio. I asked for a table for one. It was the middle of a hectic week at Columbia, but when I took my first bite of ragu with pappardelle, I felt worlds away.

Now every once in a while, I leave Columbia’s campus and head to a different part of the city to eat by myself. Sometimes it’s lunch after doing some of my homework in a random coffee shop; other times, it’s dinner before meeting up with friends. In our world of constant stimulation, finding time to sit and focus on my immediate setting—the food I am eating or the strangers around me or the thoughts in my head—is precious to me. I make time to savor sensations, to commit fully to an experience without distractions.

Coming to Columbia meant leaving behind the structure of my childhood; it meant realizing that there’s actually a lot about myself that I don’t know yet—about what I like, what I love, and who I want to be. Part of figuring those things out comes from interactions with friends, classmates, and professors, but it also comes from spending time with myself and taking a moment to listen to what’s going on inside my head.

Food is a sensory experience, reminding me to take stock of how and what I feel during a specific part of my day. But some days these moments come in a different form (food can be expensive, after all): maybe taking a walk without my earbuds in, keeping a journal, or going to a museum. It's about being alone with myself every so often and not immediately trying to fill my time—instead, I take that time to breathe in and out, to look around and look inward.

Enjoy leafing through our third issue!

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