“You just pull its head open like this, and then you can suck its brains out.”
I died a little inside that day. It was my first year of college, and I was at a Mardi Gras party that was serving gumbo and crawfish. I figured the gumbo out—spoon, mouth, cool, got it. But the crawfish was staring at me, and it had antennae.
Prior to college, I had a very strict rule about eating things that had antennae. To be honest, they just freaked me out. And it was an easy fear to keep hidden—I just whipped out some mumbled lie about keeping kosher. In spite of my best efforts to not seem like a petrified noob, I somehow ended up at this foodie party in East Campus where 30 people were staring intently at me, waiting to see what I would do.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first or last time I have been the center of unwanted attention for my pickiness. When I confessed that I didn’t like onions until high school, my friend burst out laughing in John Jay and didn’t stop. In fact, he still brings it up (thanks, Ramon). I went through a phase (OK, most of my childhood) where I ordered only mac and cheese and mashed potatoes at restaurants. When I went camping with my friend Allison, who brought materials for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I just ate bananas.
I bring up these personal anecdotes of shame mostly to introduce a greater truth: College changes the way you eat. It may start small, with the realization that you can eat ice cream for breakfast in the dining hall and no one is going to yell at you. But ultimately the change, gradual or immediate, comes, and I believe it comes for the better—particularly on our campus.
Somewhere between eating Pop-Tarts for second dinner at 1 a.m. and drinking Naked Juice as a meal, Columbia students manage to develop their culinary habits by exploring the spectacular myriad of flavors present in New York. I love hearing about the food that people love—that dreamy café, that sensational slice of late-night pizza, those crazy deep-fried fish skeletons (yeah, that’s a thing). There is a reason that New York is a mecca for eaters, why we devourers traverse sweaty subways and slush through muddy, old snow to find something delicious.
College is meant to teach many things, but I think one of its greatest lessons is that it allows the independent stomach to take the lead.
Meals are one of the few times I let myself forget about the stress and anxiety that inherently come with attending this institution, and use them as a chance to catch up with friends. I know I am not alone in this. Food brings people together on our campus. There are several clubs—FeelGood, Columbia Bartending Agency, Challah for Hunger—that support community through food and drink. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of these food lovers could dine together? Maybe that will be one of Culinarian’s events: A giant dinner party on the lawns for everybody who likes to eat (which I’m pretty sure can be shortened to just “everybody”).
When I got to Columbia, I decided I didn’t want to be someone who lived in New York and didn’t try the specialties, who didn’t drink something as obscenely ridiculous as a fishbowl, who didn’t enjoy every ethnic dish I’d never heard of, who didn’t look at college as a way to educate myself in as many things as possible—including eating. It’s the difference between my mom telling me “just try it,” and choosing to do so independently.
So, I ate the crawfish, and I haven’t looked back since.
The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in creative writing. She is the co-founder and editor in chief of Culinarian, a food magazine on campus.
To respond to this piece, or to submit an op-ed, contact email@example.com.