In speaking with friends and reading the occasional Facebook status, I can safely say that not one Berkeley student I’ve met is reluctant to come back to school after winter break. I can feel the student energy buzzing — some are excited for classes with the likes of Robert Reich or Saul Perlmutter, some are celebrating life among kindred spirits and like-minded confederates, others are just jazzed to return to the bay.
While all of the above apply to me, I’m most excited about food.
I’m just glad to be back in Berkeley and away from Los Angeles’s hustle-and-bustle lifestyle in which people put all of their energy into work, socializing or family life and nearly none into fueling their bodies to sustain these busy lifestyles.
In my first semester here last fall, cooking started out as a more affordable alternative to buying a meal plan, but it has become one of the highlights of my Berkeley experience.
Schlepping down to the farmers market or Berkeley Bowl is when I make my most important decisions of the week, when I’m forced to commit to either the supplest plums I’ve seen or my favorite apple pears, to choose between making a macaroni and cheese casserole or fettuccini alfredo with chicken.
It’s easy to be happy eating a tasty dish that cost $10, but when you pick the product, season it to perfectly suit your tastes and cook it, the satisfaction is sublime. The meal is yours, and the urge to share it with those you care about compels you to perfect your recipes and make more and more.
The chicken breast, grilled with pepper and garlic, sauteed string beans and steamed white rice I made two nights ago in my South Berkeley apartment reminded me of how cooking invigorated me for my social and academic endeavors in the fall, and it got me ready to spend more time in the kitchen this spring.
The problem is that when I’m home, I fall into the same trap as everyone else there does — eating quick and cheap.
For example, not quite a week ago, I was at my parents’ house waiting for my car to be serviced in preparation for my trip back up north. I was lounging on the couch watching reruns of Top Chef, as I was wont to do during the break, when my dad approached me about getting lunch.
It being his day off, he had just gotten cleaned up at noon, and I clearly wasn’t working on creating world peace. But we nonetheless chose the fastest, easiest place to pick up food: Taco Bell.
My meal consisted of their patented beeflike substance served inside of a variety of fried tortilla containers with cameos from iceberg lettuce (the lowliest, least nutritious of lettuces), cheddar cheese and sour cream (hidden extra calories) and refried beans (no comment necessary). I washed it all down with some carbonated liquid sugar and was done in about ten minutes.
This is just what I do what I’m home. I’m not without home cooking, but too often do we default to eating quick-and-easy.
The fact of the matter is that fast food restaurants are few and not particularly close to campus, which ended up being an excellent deterrent from seeking them out in my first semester at Cal last fall. As an English major, I most often find myself near Wheeler Hall. I could not be bothered to trek all the way to McDonald’s on University Avenue and opted to either bring a sandwich or leftovers from the previous night’s dinner.
I ate at McDonald’s all of two times last semester. That and a few trysts with Cal Dining’s chicken strips and French fries constituted the extent of my fast food consumption last fall.
On those few occasions I ate out, I saved up my money and ate at any of the countless Berkeley restaurants that make food worth eating — pasta from Gypsy’s Trattoria Italiano, deep dish pizza from Zachary’s Chicago Pizza and barbecue from Angeline’s Kitchen, to name a few.
I realize that not everyone can take time out of the day to cook — for a journalist, sometimes a day’s eating consists of coffee and maybe a burrito from Chipotle — and not everyone has a kitchen (make friends if you don’t), but everyone should at least once experience the satisfaction that washes over you when you take your first bite and think, “I made this, and it’s good.”