Understanding others

Heather Nichols-Haining

When I sat down at the kitchen table with a bowl of Chef Boyardee Ravioli, I was not expecting the snickers and sneers of my friends.

“Why would you eat that crap? It’s terrible for you and it doesn’t even taste that good,” said one of my friends. While they were mostly joking, it’s true. Chef Boyardee is not known for making gourmet whole wheat pasta with free-range meat in recyclable containers. On the contrary, it’s a jumble of processed beef and starchy pasta soaked in a tomato sauce that undoubtedly contains few real tomatoes. Chef Boyardee seems to be the most un-Whitman food choice possible.

What then could possibly inspire a perfectly sane Whittie to pick up a can of ravioli and actually digest the stuff? At $1.55 a can, and even cheaper if you buy a generic brand, ravioli is the logical choice for students living on a budget.

It’s too easy to forget that not all students at Whitman are from upper-class families. Those that aren’t base many of their food choices on what’s affordable. I eat ravioli because I can afford it and because I was raised on it. Nobody thinks twice about eating ravioli at my house and to this day it is still one of my favorite foods.

While eating healthy is a trend at Whitman, the alternatives are much cheaper. Some students simply cannot afford the $9 dinners from Bon Appetit. I do eat at bon appetit, and many of the foods were new to me during my first year. Couscous, tofu, many of the teas, fresh watermelon, most of the varieties of fish, soy milk and butternut squash are all foods served frequently in the dining halls that I had little to no exposure to while growing up.

It may seem completely alien to some that a person would voluntarily pick hot dogs or macaroni over gourmet salmon, but many poor students find it equally odd that someone would spend so much money on a plate of leafy greens topped with chunks of tasteless tofu. The way you eat and the foods you were brought up on are not the same foods everyone eats regularly.

I’ll never forget the first time my friends asked me, “Heather, where’s your Nalgene?” In my family, we can’t afford to pay $16 for a brand name cup. When we want water, we stop at water fountains. If we’re really thirsty, we buy a disposable bottle of water out of the vending machine for a dollar and use it until it gets lost, three or four months later. My family snickered when I bought my first Nalgene.

Norms are funny things. I grew up believing that canned ravioli and hot dogs were completely normal. My brothers and I laughed at the idea of wasting money on water bottles, thinking nobody would possibly buy them. Now here I am on a campus where the norms are all switched up, everyone buys Nalgenes, refuses to eat hot dogs and will pay $3 for a cup of hot chocolate.
This exchange of norms is part of the college experience, and of growing up and learning to interact with others. But as we’re sharing our values and deconstructing our norms, we need to be sensitive and receptive to others. Questioning our truths, lifestyles and cultures is an incredibly enriching and exciting process and I invite the whole campus to take a genuine look at your neighbors and classmates and ask what it means that they’re different. Maybe you’ll find that the differences you see are not so alien and unnatural as you first thought they were.