Cienkus Headshot_SketchWashington, D.C. is a heaven of sorts for foodies such as myself. The streets are lined with a myriad of restaurants, with many healthy and diverse options. I was blown away by the salad shops, juice bars and vegan bakeries when I first came to Georgetown — it could not have been more different from my previous Midwestern diet. I came to realize that most of what makes up our eating habits comes from where we grew up and what is readily available. Back home, we are known for Italian beef, deep-dish pizza and hot dogs. Though I enjoy a meal at Al’s Italian Beef as much as the next good Chicago girl, my recent dietary restrictions have not left me much leeway to enjoy a cheese fry unscathed. Georgetown was a safe haven, a campus full of acai bowls and The Hilltoss’ salads.

However, when I came back home for the summer, my system and my self-identity went through a bit of a shock. The healthiest lunch option without driving very far was Panera, and the only quick stops were fast food joints. There was no middle ground between a McDonald’s and nice sit-down restaurant. I was left to face my home diet completely unequipped for the challenges this would cause me.

I was not the same person when I came back in regards to eating habits, and that became something of an identity crisis. Why wasn’t Katherine eating cheese fries today? Is she on a diet? I was the “needy one” who was not game for going to Chuckwagon once a week with the work buddies. More than my friends and colleagues actually judged me, I put undue pressure on myself and was self-conscious about it. I wanted to be the girl who could eat like a trucker and feel OK at the same time. I tried to explain: it was not that I didn’t like those things, that I had changed, but rather that it made me feel extremely ill if a staple in my diet included a fried food.

In the midst of this crisis, I have started to embrace cooking. There is tangible joy in eating something you have created, being creative with different foods and making people happy with your efforts. It has also been far less expensive and has helped me embrace the new lifestyle of food I require in order to feel good while also retaining the old classics.

I used to view cooking as a chore, as something oppressive my mom had to do every night just because she was supposed to. I thought that learning the skill was the opposite of freedom and feminism. However, throughout this summer, my view has shifted. Cooking is an enjoyable and valuable skill that can be employed whenever necessary. In a way, cooking is a form of independence — I do not need to rely on anyone else for my subsidence or happiness. Watch out for some tasty creations next year, Georgetown.

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