Opinion: You Are What You Eat


Jessica W. '23

Cinnamon baked oats topped with powdered sugar and maple syrup.

Pre-quarantine, in Normal Times, my only morning goal was to arrive at school on time. I woke up at 7:25 A.M. after a long night of essay writing on Romeo and Juliet and solving math equations. During those early mornings, I was always running late, so I focused on the essentials: brushing my teeth, washing my face, and double-checking that I had on my uniform. Breakfast—acclaimed to be the most important meal of the day—was an easy sacrifice in favor of an extra twenty minutes of sleep. On ambitious mornings, I ate a banana or grabbed a piece of toast to eat in the car. Throughout the day, my eating followed a similar trend: squeezing in chances during the day to sneak a bite, sometimes a granola bar or a quick pack of sushi from the Commons. Even when I did have a chance to sit down and enjoy my food, my mind was always elsewhere: the next test, quiz, or club meeting. Food was always the last thing on my mind. 

Quarantine changed all that. 

Sprawled on my bed after dinner with my phone in hand—a routine shaped by my laziness—I could hear faint echoes of my dog’s rhythmic breathing reverberating throughout my room. Ben Ben—Chinese for dumb—was the misleading name my nine-year-old self chose for my dog, a small, white Maltipoo. Accompanied by him, my days and nights stretched out in an endless monotony: eat dinner, scroll through TikTok, and await sleep. 

Last spring, my usual feed of dance videos and amateur astrology enthusiasts was interrupted by a recipe for cinnamon roll baked oatmeal.  I halfheartedly liked the video and scrolled onto the next. But as the night progressed, videos of food and recipes, like newly manufactured products on a conveyor belt, were being fed to me (pun intended), and I found myself hungry. Like really hungry. The kind of hunger that isn’t satisfied by a Snickers bar or a quick bite.  

I lay in bed as visions of crunchy bacon and warming soups, the kind my grandmother used to make, lingered in thought. Why don’t I ever cook? Sure, I don’t have a lot of time, but that wasn’t exactly true. At least not anymore. My days in quarantine were spent indoors. And with nowhere to go and no one to see, time was in abundance.  

Unphased by my initial response, the question continued to nag. Then accompanied by slow snores emitted from Ben Ben, it occurred to me that perhaps I was afraid of cooking, scared by what I associated with the act. Cooking seemed to be something only adults did, encompassing all the supposed responsibilities of adulthood. And growing up, the kitchen always seemed to be my mother’s domain–she was the only one who actually spent time there. To my younger self, cooking never seemed an enjoyable activity; it was made out to be a mundane task my mom tended to every day. Then there was also the practicality of it. It was much easier to simply eat rather than to collect ingredients, prep and cook them, and clean-up afterward. But I couldn’t ignore my newfound interest or hunger, and so I went to sleep that night resolved to make the oatmeal recipe the next day.

The following day, I carried out my plan. I carefully followed the instructions provided by the TikTok video and, using my underdeveloped debate skills, attempted to convince my brother to wash the dishes for me. Later seated at the dining table, I directed my attention solely at the steaming, aromatic bowl of baked oats in front of me. Expecting the worst outcome, I cautiously directed a spoonful towards my mouth. As the smooth, warm taste of cinnamon flooded my tastebuds, I was enveloped by a sense of accomplishment. Perhaps cooking isn’t all that bad.

Surprised by that success, I began to cook my own breakfasts—pancakes, smoothie bowls, and sandwiches. I later ventured on to making other meals. Some days I spent more time in the kitchen than in my room. And with each self-cooked meal, I grew to appreciate the process of cooking my food as much as eating it.  Thoughts of the next day’s breakfast now occupy my mind as I lie on my bed, with Ben Ben’s steady breaths accompanying me on my journey to sleep. 

Once school resumes back on campus, I hope to continue to view food as a form of self-care rather than an inconvenience. I know it won’t be easy. When it’s the difference between studying for a test or eating a satisfying meal, I hope I won’t fuel my mind and body as a compromise but as a necessity. 

I can say without a doubt that everyone has heard of the saying, “You are what you eat.” Today, I can proudly say with confidence that I am a warm bowl of cinnamon roll baked oatmeal.