“Let’s get a meal!” you say, enthusiastically, to an acquaintance you’d like to know better. At Bowdoin, an invitation for a meal represents more than just food. “Getting a meal” is a common way to become familiar with people outside our immediate friend groups, or legitimize relationships with friends of friends or casual hookups. It’s also important who you don't get a meal with…maybe you don’t want that casual hookup to be part of your weekday life.

Eating with new people at Bowdoin helps us build connections to campus groups, and discover opportunities for ourselves. This is, in a word, networking. Like an “informational interview,” getting a meal with an acquaintance is performative. You want to project the best, most fitting version of yourself to a new person, while trying to appear casual and composed. Whether we like it or not, every part of the meal—from the choice of dining hall, to the way we hold our silverware—affects the impression we make on other people.

Getting a meal is a skill. As Julia Mead succinctly explained in an article last semester, the Senior Etiquette Dinner teaches Bowdoin students to perform an elite class identity. Beyond the dinner, there are plenty of subtle ways that Bowdoin teaches us to behave. Seminar-style classes teach us to participate in business meetings. College houses teach us to plan events. And getting meals teaches us to network.

When I was in high school, my junior year English teacher once began a class by playing the music from 2001: A Space Odyssey and holding a box of cookies over his head.

“Mallomars,” Mr. Baldwin said, “are perfect. The graham cracker base, marshmallow filling, and decadent chocolate coating is truly heavenly.”

He then distributed the cookies around the class.

“You know, food is love,” he told us. “Enjoy the cookies.”

My teacher then had us each write us essay about the Mallomar brand cookie, much to the chagrin (thanks for the vocab, Mr. Baldwin!) of many students in the class.

Mr. Baldwin’s teaching could fit in with the cheesiest of Lifetime movies, but I never did forget that lesson. Sharing a meal with someone is not just intimate, but sacred. Every religion that I know of follows several traditions based around food. This past Sunday, I couldn’t help remembering the pastries and pasta that my Italian family would share every Easter after gorging ourselves on chocolate all morning.

Is there anything sacred about eating with someone at Bowdoin? Meals here are often scheduled far in advance, and squeezed between various other commitments. Food can provide a rare opportunity to reflect on yourself and connect with another person. It can help alleviate the stress of countless other duties. But often, a meal becomes another social obligation, requiring the same performative self-awareness as a meeting or a class. Does that kind of self-awareness violate the sacredness of eating, making lunch sacrilegious?

Consciousness and love are not mutually exclusive. Bowdoin promotes an ideal of social leadership and financial success. But although Bowdoin’s culture socializes us to adopt bourgeois habits, we don’t need to fully accept or reject an upper class identity. If we give ourselves entirely to an elitist ideal, we’ll end up hurting the people that interfere with our self-interested goals. However, to reject the Bowdoin ideal wholesale comes with its own kind of dishonesty. It’s a privilege to learn how to refine the skills necessary for a high-power career. At Bowdoin, every one of us participates in a culture of people with immense social and economic power, and it’s worth being aware of the way that culture shapes us.

When I was growing up, my family drank a lot of diet soda. Now, I often hesitate in the dining hall, checking my impulse to drink a product as corporate, artificial and innutritious as Coke Zero. But tater tots and fried chicken have never been my comfort food. At my grandmother’s house, cans of Diet Pepsi were as ubiquitous as loaves of Italian bread. As soon as my sister and I would walk into her home, we would hug my grandmother hello and then make our way to the fridge, trusting that it would be full of shiny silver cans. Yes, Pepsi profits every time we purchase its products. But those cans came straight from my grandmother’s heart. Even though “getting a meal” may be a kind of networking, eating with others often leads to lasting connections and a strong community. After all, food is love.