Oberlin Blogs

My Oberlin Family Dinner

August 4, 2014

Tanya Aydelott

If you haven't figured it out by now, food is a Big Thing at Oberlin. The college sources about 35% of its food from local growers; through OSCA, our co-op cooks make scrumptious meals for a quarter of the student body, paying special attention to where their food comes from; fourth meal is a magical thing you'll discover; the Cat in the Cream is known as much for its amazing music shows as it is for its ginormous delicious cookies.

It's only natural, then, that when I start thinking about the fall and of all of our new first-years joining us here on campus, my thoughts zing towards the dinner table. What conversations will you be sharing across plates of food at Dascomb, Stevie, or Keep? What recipes might you contribute to your co-op? What are the foods that you'll turn to when you want to explain "home" to your new friends?

Two people serve a meal in a blur of activity
A gathering of ravenous Obies!

Earlier this summer, Ma'ayan and I challenged the class of 2018 and the larger Oberlin community to gather together and create a collection of recipes to remind us of home.

The Oberlin Family Dinner was never meant to just end at the recipes, though. Food is, at its most honest heart, something to be shared. An experience. A way of communing, and of building community.

MFK Fisher, food writer extraordinaire, wrote the following about the importance of food:

It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it ... and then the warmth and the richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied ... and it is all one.

To me, this reads like a pretty prime reflection on any sort of change. Moving to college, switching cities, changing homes or jobs or communities--each of these builds a kind of hunger, a loss. They're imbued with a kind of adventure as well, a balance to the change from what used to be your usual.

On a table: a pot of soup, loaf of fresh bread, bowl of bean salad, and pan of mac and cheese.

It isn't an accident that Ma'ayan and I wanted to build a cookbook with the class of 2018: we've both moved, across continents and states and oceans. We've both watched our networks of friends move away, or have found ourselves in other cities from the people we are used to calling family. And in Oberlin, we've built our own families, our own homes, our own little empires of music and laughter and food.

I'm currently wrestling with a visa situation that is going to stymie part of my fall admissions travel. Dana—new to Oberlin and the Career Center—is finding her feet in our lovely little town. My admissions colleague, Jess, is planning a series of amazing visit programs for high school seniors. And tonight, Ma'ayan pulled us all together and hosted our very own Oberlin family dinner party.

We made your dishes, Oberlin family. Stephanie Gunter's Flank Steak with Corn, Black Bean and Avocado Salad. Faith Padgett's Mama Lucy's Mac and Cheese. Marsha Lynn Bragg's Easy Black Bean Soup. Patricia Maurice-Madey's Kitchen Sink Soda Bread.

The food was amazing. Each dish brought something else to the table: a new story, a sudden flare of memory, a half-remembered joke just waiting to unfurl. Dinner tables are beautiful, heady spaces, aren't they? I'm convinced magic happens across their scarred and knife-nicked tabletops.

A loaf of bread, with a protrusion.
My Kitchen Sink Soda Bread somehow came out of the oven waving. Such polite bread!

What magic happens across your dinner tables? With what dishes and conversations do you fill your meals?

The next part of the Oberlin Family Dinner is easy. Make a dish from the cookbook, and share your dinner with us. Show us the spaces that make your homes yours, and the meals that bring your families together. The last few weeks before college are about celebrating milestones, hugging close your families, and reflecting on the people you've been and are becoming. Invite us briefly into the magic spaces of your mealtimes.

I can't wait to share a table with you!

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