February 13, 2023

DERY | Leaving Town on a Chili Day

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Throughout my time at Cornell, Saturdays have morphed to take on a variety of different routines and plans. A glimpse into a freshman year Saturday would feature me playing 8-ball pool in the Bauer game room. A Saturday morning during my sophomore or junior years would require staring up at the ceiling from bed to muster the energy to begin a problem set. This past Saturday during my final semester on the Hill, I began with no plans, and before I knew it, I was amidst a hungry crowd at the annual Oneonta Chili Bowl: An annual cook-off where local community members and businesses offer samples of their best chili recipes. 

Though I have lived in Rochester for most of my life — and have subsequently attended school in Ithaca — this weekend marked my first local upstate New York Chili Bowl. Upon hearing the possibility of escaping our grimy collegetown house with a near-empty refrigerator for a sunny day in Oneonta sampling dozens of local chili recipes, my housemates and I packed ourselves into a compact sedan and hit the road.

I had no idea what to expect as I walked into a tent enclosure outside of the mansion hosting the event near downtown Oneonta. Ceramic bowl in hand, I followed the smell of chili and filed into a line, where a hefty serving was soon spooned into my bowl. I grabbed a plastic spoon and took my first bite, which immediately felt more warm and homey than any of the collegetown or campus meals of the weeks prior. Between the dozens of bowls of chili I shared with friends, the local folk band’s music and even the raffle I lost, I was refreshingly reminded that life is not always as fast-paced and bustling as it sometimes feels on campus.

Between students’ overloaded schedules, the common belief that there simply is not that much to do beyond the confines of Cornell and weather that is most conducive to staying inside, it can be discouraging to seek opportunities to explore the area where our alma mater stands. Attending the annual Oneonta Chili Bowl this past weekend, I appreciated just how much community and wholesome experiences exist for those looking both in Ithaca and the surrounding towns. 

In prior semesters, day-long excursions outside of Ithaca meant visiting the surrounding nature scene. From the local waterfalls to the further-out Watkins Glen, and even the slopes of Greek Peak, students flock to explore breathtaking parks and trails. All too often, however, the nearby upstate New York towns get lost in the shuffle. We hear about Cornellians rallying for trips to Robert H. Treman State Park and First Dam – very rarely are students descending the slopes of West Hill to engage with communities in Geneva or Skaneateles. 

These local villages may not have major reputations, but still provide a unique change of pace from the Cornell experience, and most notably one in which you can do more than leave the campus bubble only to still interact exclusively with your Cornell social bubble. You never know when an innocuous Saturday could turn into a Chili Bowl in Oneonta unless you explore and branch out. After all, with many Cornell graduates soon leaving for major cities for jobs and internships, when’s the next time we’ll end up in the “middle of nowhere”?

However, there is a greater reason why students in a small collegetown, who would otherwise feel compelled to explore the surrounding region, are instead landlocked by the slopes of West Hill or the greater Ithaca area. The hustle-bustle Cornell experience causes many of us to believe that day trips equate to days behind on studies or work. Only upon embarking on such spontaneous excursions this semester have I been able to understand that in many situations, that revered “day I could have spent working” was just an excuse to remain closed off in my campus comfort zone. Exploring neighboring towns will help Cornellians feel rooted in a community greater than their Olin Library desk buddies during their four years in Ithaca. Students should not have to wait until after the semester, or even until school breaks, to travel away from Ithaca. 

To promote an adventurous culture, Cornell should do more to facilitate these kinds of student excursions. This support could be in the form of more visible promotion of events such as festivals and fairs within neighboring towns, as well as some form of transportation for those who do not own a personal vehicle on campus. As the weather begins to ease up, this spring presents countless opportunities to explore the surrounding Finger Lakes region. Look further than the Commons for your next excursion, Cornellians — you might like what you see… or taste.

Roei Dery is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. The Dery Bar runs every other Monday this semester.