Ode to OSCA From the Formerly Food Insecure

When registering for OSCA’s meal plan, I was offered checkable boxes for communicating my food needs: Eating Disorder? Nope. Allergies? Nope. Veganism? Yeah, no. I looked for a box entitled “Food insecurity.”

When I was a kid I was allowed to eat anything I wanted; I only had to procure and prepare it first. Today we call this “food insecurity.” 

Open my bag today and you’ll find: pepperoni, half a cucumber, tea bags, baklava, airline cookies, loose pistachios, and a quarter of yesterday’s bagel wrapped in a napkin. Say what you will about the way that I live, but I always have a nice snack to come home to.

Up until age 12, when the courts strongly suggested (read: ordered) that I live elsewhere, my mom and I did our grocery shopping at Atlas Liquors. I adored the place. I could barely contain my excitement as I touched every item in attentive fixation. Man, they had everything! Blueberry muffins sweating in their plastic wrappers, coconut-scented prayer candles, black bananas in a wicker basket, Top Ramen and Cup-a-Soup. There was also lots of candy, but I didn’t touch the stuff. Candy isn’t filling. I preferred tinned sardines and vinegar chips. (Don’t laugh. It’s delicious.) That black, plastic goodie bag would last me all weekend, if I rationed well enough.

Mom didn’t cook or clean a lot. If she had mommy-blogged, her housekeeping tips might go like this:

Problem: Dishes piling up? Have they filled your sink? Now precariously piled on all your counter space? Stove, too?

Solution: Fret not! With an eye to your decor, carefully select a bed sheet that can be thrown atop the mounds.

Problem: Running low on clean dishes? 

Solution: Go to your Neighborhood Bar. Bring a purse! Subtly (or not!) dump the bowls of pretzels into your bag. Not just the pretzels — bowls too! It’s the Free-Pretzel-Bowl. They can’t call it that if they don’t mean it. 





Cat poop?


I was shocked when my friends cracked up after I informed them that, no, the unrefrigerated pepperoni in my bag was fine, actually. Shocked as well when my roommate lovingly took me by the shoulders, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Celeste. You aren’t coming back to the lentils. We need to take down the plates. This has to end.” 

I’m a Food Safety Convert. When I first got here, I thought the rules were all a bit much. I felt personally insulted by dietary restrictions. Oh, you won’t eat my food? Fine! Don’t eat. 

Why gloves? I didn’t think trace amounts of my nail polish chipped into the food would make anyone sick. I nibble at it all the time, and I bet you do too.

I’m still skeptical of expiration dates. 

My attitude for the first half of the semester was I’m not nasty, you’re nasty

When I joined OSCA, I joined a community that treated this privilege — food — as a right. A right to eat regularly, a right to eat foods that don’t make you sick, a right to eat by your ethics. To me, it felt like entitlement. I was defensive. 

I was jealous.

It wasn’t until I talked to the folks with dietary restrictions that I realized that, far from them being inconsiderate, they were, just like me, having their needs and desires suddenly thrust into the public eye. 

I befriended the Food Safety Coordinators, initially out of morbid fascination more than anything else. Turns out, real people were writing those annoying emails about keeping my nails out of the food and the food off the floor. It recontextualized the rules for me. Now I find it endearing watching them tromp through the kitchen, harrumphing about all the violations I couldn’t see. 

Below my defensiveness, I’m safe and I’m fed. How terrifying. I’m being cared for too. Consistently. My co-op made a claim: I would have two hot meals a day. It was made without hesitation, without the trumpets that I think should come with such a stately claim. It took me a while to stop looking for the catch.

Sometimes now, late at night, I’ll sneak downstairs into the dark industrial kitchen and heave open the walk-in fridge. It’s cold and clean inside and the lights are harsh fluorescents, but homey nonetheless. I sigh to see my breath. The yellow apples are nestled together in a crate, near winter squash recently unearthed. For a moment I rest on a milk crate, taking in the splendor of all our fresh produce.