May 25, 2018

LUTWAK | Final Course: Just Desserts

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The first time I appeared in The Sun, I was barely a year old. A photo of me bouncing in a highchair next to my dad lay under the title “Sloppy Supper” with a caption that read, “A sweetly messy toddler chows down at the Chariot recently.” This was on page eight, the page that, two decades later, I would spend hours piecing together each week down at the Sun office.

I started as a news writer. I still clearly remember running out of Balch Hall to get to my first interview on time, wearing an outfit that I thought made me look more intelligent than I actually felt. It was a story about the Big Red Barn that got buried away in the back of the paper, but I didn’t care, because my name was on the byline and I felt like I was part of something important.

I began as a news writer and ended as the Dining editor. I know that seems like a big leap, and I know that Dining isn’t regarded as the most important or serious section of The Sun. News answers the tough questions and Dining covers the fun stories. But I got way more angry comments and hate-filled emails writing stories for Dining than I ever did for News (and I’m sure I’ll get even more for this article — I would expect nothing less). Food and wine are intertwined with our day-to-day lives. Some of my strongest memories over the course of my time at Cornell are inseparable from the dining experiences associated with them. I know you’re probably thinking, Olivia, I’m not reading the Dining section of The Sun in order to hear your philosophical inquiries into humanity. Well, I don’t go out to dinner with a guy in order for him to choke me later. So, bear with me.

Many of my worst memories began with a meal. My boyfriend freshman year used to always take me to Taste of Thai, the same restaurant where ICE would later arrest multiple employees, before he would force himself on me against my protests because I owed him for dinner, or because if I refused it meant I didn’t love him, or because I was a selfish bitch if I said no, or a million other reasons that eventually came to mean nothing. He brought me Pad See Ew the night I finally found a voice to stand up to him, leading to our breakup and my freedom. I couldn’t eat Thai food for a long time after that.

I spent years eating the frozen yogurt at an Ithaca convenience store, where I began working at the age of 15. It was at 15 when, as I ate my fro-yo behind the counter, the owner told me he installed the mirrors above the frozen yogurt machines so he and the male employees could look down women’s shirts. I was 15 when he asked me what kind of birth control I used. I was 15 when he told my boyfriend (yes, the same one as above) that he wanted to make a shirt with a drawing of my naked body lying across a car. My boyfriend told me my boss was just misunderstood. I think I understood him perfectly. I don’t eat his frozen yogurt anymore.

Immediately following the Pad See Ew incident, I ate cake from Libe Café in my bed every night to avoid confronting any of my feelings. After a year, constant harassment had turned to stalking from both my ex-boyfriend (who sent letters to an address I had kept secret from him) and the owner of the convenience store (who texted me that he sometimes watched me walk home at night). I remember the meals I wasn’t able to hold down after The Advocacy Center stopped returning my calls and the lawyers I knew told me there was nothing I could do unless these men showed up at my doorstep. I spent months lying awake, a knife under my pillow, waiting for that day to come.

My senior year, these incidents somewhat behind me, I can still taste the salt-and-vinegar chips a guy asked me to pick up for him and the glass of French red wine he poured me before suddenly his hand was on my neck, my face was shoved into a pillow and I lost the ability to breathe. He ate the chips while I walked home from his frat house, one that is still in operation despite the administration’s supposed crack-down on Greek life.

Despite all that, food is also a part of some of my best memories.

The cake my dad had waiting for me the day I got accepted to Cornell. It already had Cornell written across it, because my parents never doubted I would get in.

The cake I later tried to make for my friend after she got accepted to Cornell Law that, despite using a cake mix, turned out horribly. She ended up not going to Cornell Law, probably because of the inedible cake.

The short-lived food blog my friend and I started, which turned into more of an introspective examination of the meaning of friendship because, like I said, food is inseparable from the core values of humanity.

Going to Dos Amigos taco truck on my 21st birthday and ordering one of everything.

The dozens of orders of mozzarella sticks I’ve gotten at CTP only to bring back to my apartment to eat in bed (RIP Collegetown Pizza).

Weekly happy hour and truffle fries at Rulloff’s with other Sun editors before our editorial board meetings.

Ordering Thai food from Grubhub after the Slope Day concert, getting inpatient waiting for delivery, ordering pizza instead and ultimately ending up with $60 worth of food when all I really wanted was a nap.

Getting way too many snacks for a road trip and then blowing the rest of my money on food at the destination, even though by that point I was full from coconut chips and Pocky.

The deep-dish pizza I’m waiting to eat once I move to Chicago after graduation.

Hundreds of brunches, surprise birthday dinners, Valentine’s day desserts, drinks from Café Jennie every morning, drunk late-night food, drinking wine on roofs, eating and drinking through laughter and through tears.

So, yes, I think the Dining section of The Sun has the ability to cover important issues. While The Sun as a whole has done a lot in my four years here to ask the hard questions, I think we can dig a little deeper. Telling the full story can be hard, hence why I waited until I’ve almost graduated to tell mine. I hope The Sun can manage to hold the administration and the students even more accountable in the coming years, including members of its own staff — until we can get rid of the “Zero days since our last casual sexism” sign in the Sun office, I still think we have more work to do.

Ultimately, though, Cornell and The Sun have given me amazing memories, many of which I’ve been able to document in print. I’m thankful to have eaten my way through the last four years here.

Olivia Lutwak is graduating from the College of Arts and Sciences. She was the dining editor on the 135th editorial board.