As COVID continues to affect our ability to live a normal life at Duke, one thing remains constant: we need to eat.
Based on the current dining policy, the ideal Duke student leaves their room, walks all the way from their dorm to the Brodhead Center, picks up their mobile order, and walks all the way back to their room to eat their food. A plan like that works flawlessly for a student living on the main quad, but becomes less appealing when living in a more distant dorm (I’m looking at you, Hollows).
The plan becomes irritating when you’re living “on-campus” in Blue Light or Avana, where the bus frequency leaves much to be desired. Returning to my apartment with a paper bag of cold soy nuggets isn’t exactly my ideal meal situation.
Outdoor dining on campus doesn’t exactly solve this problem, but it did succeed in pushing the problem back a few months. We were content to snag a seat on the BC plaza so we could scarf down the Panda Express we craved so badly. But then, to put it simply, it started getting cold out.
With a wicked combination of daylight savings and a drop in temperature, dinner on the BC plaza suddenly isn’t the great idea it once was. Back in September, I asked a friend what he thought Duke would do when it becomes too cold to eat outside. He replied that “They probably don’t think we’re going to make it to that point.”
Well here we are, at that point.
With Duke’s recent alterations to the on-campus dining policy that removed indoor seating and banned eating in dorm common rooms, students trying to eat together are faced with a simple question: Now what?
Yes, it’s obviously important for everyone’s safety to do what we can to keep COVID cases as low as possible. Maintaining our physical health is a top priority, but the changing of the seasons and the tighter dining restrictions will deliver a blow to our mental health. And that’s because our community building is reliant on food.
We as human beings love to eat together. Shared meals have always held a crucial role in providing an occasion to see our friends. Has it been a while since you’ve seen an old friend? Why don’t you get lunch sometime to catch up?
Thanks to the pandemic, on many days the only reason we leave our buildings is to get food. I know that I can satisfy my social appetite for the day every Wednesday, because that’s when my friends and I meet on the plaza for dinner. Without those plans to eat together, I could stay in my apartment all day and settle for my boxed mac and cheese. That would certainly be the safer option in terms of COVID, but it isn’t sustainable for my mental health (or frankly, my physical health).
We’re less than a month from the semester’s end. Navigating the semester while the pandemic looms overhead has been exhausting. I’m not the first person to say that, and I certainly won’t be the last.
I wouldn’t have come back to Duke in-person this fall if it wasn’t for my friends also deciding to do the same. We needed each other if we were going to make it through an unprecedented semester. After a day of classes that all took place within my bedroom walls, getting to see a friend for dinner elsewhere feels like a much-needed breath of fresh air.
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We need to hold on to whatever sense of a community we can have right now. Losing our ability to share a meal together is going to make this last month really difficult, but following health guidelines comes first. Nonetheless, check on your friends in the upcoming weeks. If you’re stressed, they probably are too. While it’s becoming less possible to safely eat together, it’s always possible to find a way to be there for each other.
Jake Malone is a Trinity senior who is hopefully working on a paper right now. His column runs on alternate Fridays.