I’m back at NYU at last! and very, very ready to start the school year. I’m taking the first classes in my Media, Culture and Communications major this year, and I’m starting to figure out what on Earth I want to do with the thing– where it can take me, what I can build with it.
I’ve also– miracle of miracles– got a kitchen, something very much missing from my life last year. Which back then didn’t really matter, as I was on the meal plan, but these days I’m entirely in control of my own diet. I’ve downloaded a cookbook off the Internet, which features such exciting recipes as Whole Wheat Jalapeño Cheddar Scones, Broiled Eggplant Salad, Vegetable Jambalaya, and Peach Coffee Cake. We’ll see if any of those work out, as my cooking skills are dubious at best and today’s attempt at Caramelized Onions and Cheddar on Toast tasted mostly and inexplicably like salt, but hey, I’ve always got twelve packs of ramen on top of the fridge if the whole “being a real healthy human adult” thing doesn’t work out. (The caramelized onions may have tasted pretty bad, by the way, but good god they smelled delicious.)
My newfound kitchen comes with its own host of problems, though, and not all of them have to do with whether or not the food tastes good.
I’ve joked a lot about how left-wing my parents are in their diet– look, folks, it’s either laugh about the ORGANIC NON-GMO TRICOLOR QUINOA for dinner or sneak away to McDonalds, and I don’t have the spare cash for McMuffins– but it’s definitely influenced me more than I admit. I can’t stand most heavily processed sugary foods, like Poptarts, Pringles, or Lucky Charms. I love strawberries in the summer, when they’re in season, but in winter when they’re shipped up from Mexico I honestly despise the taste. When I crack an egg over the pan in my new kitchen, I make a face– the eggs from our backyard chickens have full, orange yolks, and these watery yellow substitutes just look gross.
So am I seeking out this healthy, hippie food in New York?
Unfortunately, as you probably already know, money. The fact is that I just don’t have the room in my budget for really good-quality organic locally made pasta, or fancy non-American cheese, or– often– a regular diet of vegetables and fruit. If it were entirely a question of money, yeah, I’d probably eat ramen seven nights a week.
But it’s not entirely a question of money, and it’s not entirely a question of taste, either.
Like almost everybody my age, I’m well-aware of just how rapidly the planet I live on is deteriorating, and just how much I’m contributing to it. I made a graph of what my carbon footprint looked like in fifth grade; all my lessons about the Water Cycle were interspersed with lessons about my local watershed, and what I could do to avoid polluting it; my brother, who’s studying environmental science in Isla Vista, is happy to share new information about invasive species and frightening diseases spread by humans every time we see each other.
It’s absolutely because of my brother that I became a vegetarian. I remember vividly sitting on the couch with him at Hanukkah, idly giving him crap for going to see a movie made by someone homophobic; he shrugged at me, annoyed, and said, “Well, you know what the meat industry does to the planet, but you do it anyway.” And he was absolutely right– if human beings were a species of herbivores, the current California drought wouldn’t be nearly so bad. It’s easy to think of getting all your veggies from a garden in your backyard, but imagine getting all your meat from animals you raised yourself, and you’ll start to get a picture of the kind of resources– water, food, facilities– that are poured into sustaining a culture where most people eat meat every single day.
So that’s a small thing I can do to reduce my impact– though God knows the chicken-flavored ramen on top of the fridge speaks to just how difficult it is to go without meat all the time– and I also have a great resource for eating sustainably in the form of the farmer’s market, just a few blocks away from my dorm. I’ve gotten cucumbers and garlic from there already, and I’m really excited about it; it’s a way to eat locally, eat in season, and more importantly, eat cheaply. Onions from the farmer’s market cost about half as much as onions from the supermarket! Now that’s worth looking at.
But I’m incredibly lucky to have this kind of resource: I live in New York City, I live in Manhattan, I live in a building surrounded by grocery stores. If I’d gone to college out in the middle of Nebraska– or even in some remote location upstate New York, where farms are abundant but supermarkets are very much not– I’d be having a very different experience.
God knows I never wanted such a simple thing as “what’s for dinner?” to turn into a huge production. But part of being responsible for my own welfare, I think, means taking responsibility when it comes to my impact on the world. The great part of being a grown-up is that you get to eat ice cream whenever you want; the not-so-great part of being a grown-up is that you aren’t eating ice cream in a vacuum. What I do matters, all the time.
But hey, on the upside, I still have about three-quarters of an onion left. Who wants an omelette?