April 20, better known as 4/20, is a date inextricably tied to substance use. This year, however, Big Night In (BNI) and the Vassar Food Community (VFC) co-hosted the Off-Campus Group Dinner. The substance-free cooking event was held at the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory (PUF), a repurposed underwear factory that is now a restaurant and a venue equipped with a kitchen. Students arrived via a BNI-operated shuttle at 7 p.m. to cook salad, lasagna (with vegetarian and vegan varieties), roasted vegetables and apple crisp.
If the Vassar Food Community doesn’t sound familiar, it’s probably because they are new kids on the block. As VFC Co-Founder Nicole Yaw ’18 explained over email, the VFC, formed this semester, is an evolution of an older org, Vassar Food Rescue. Yaw stressed that the VFC welcomes anyone interested in food, regardless of cooking experience, saying, “Everyone cooks/eats/has a relationship with food very differently and we just want to create a space for diverse people to connect together through that.” Their missions include forming bonds between students and the greater Poughkeepsie community, being healthy in a financially efficient manner and discussing and tackling issues such as food sustainability.
The org members selected the venue and dishes for the event with these goals in mind. VFC member Tamika Whitenack ’21 described over email, “PUF is one of the hidden gems of Poughkeepsie and they are doing really cool community work, so I think exposing Vassar students to what Hudson River Housing is doing with the space is important … It’s also convenient because it’s so close to Vassar!” She went on to detail how the PUF’s professional and communal aspect add to its charm. The space both only provides the opportunity to work in a fully-equipped kitchen but also is open to anyone in the community.
Whitenack pointed out that with its many components, the lasagna entree naturally lent itself to group cooking. She proposed this dish because it can accommodate people with various dietary habits and thus fulfill the VCF’s commitment to inclusiveness. The group also promoted healthy, balanced eating with the addition of the salad and roasted vegetables.
In the eyes of those who organized the Off-Campus Group Dinner, the event was a success. Whitenack stated, “I think the greatest thing was how we had so many different people, but everyone was really enthusiastic and willing to help out with the cooking! It was definitely the biggest event that VFC has had so far, so the sheer number of participants was a big accomplishment for us (largely thanks to BNI!). I also think the food all turned out pretty good, that was important to us as well.”
Participant Kelly Zhang ’21 echoed Whitenack’s sentiments. She commented, “I liked how it was a collaborative effort by different class years and people from different backgrounds, and we all came together to prepare a wholesome meal for everyone. I signed up for the event only expecting to bond with a friend that I signed up with … But then it turned out to be really fun with just everyone. I got to know a lot of people that I never saw before on campus … And it really reached beyond my expectations.”
According to Zhang, the event exposed her to various styles of cooking and provided a break from what she was used to on campus. She elaborated, “It was new to me [because] I knew how to make Asian food and that was not Asian food. I learned how to work with new types of food. Like, I have never cut a radish before, but I gained new skills from going to the event and that will be useful for cooking in the future, learning to make more stuff.”
In terms of her favorite dish, Zhang explained, “I liked all of them because they don’t have it at the Deece, so it was very refreshing to just get off campus and it’s something completely different than what we normally have. The salad here is so plain and the same every day but when we went there was a lot of new stuff. And it tasted a lot better for some reason, maybe because we made it [on] our own.”
To sum up, Yaw stated, “[The] Vassar Food Community is a multi-mission org with food at its core.” VFC continues to plan events, including a picnic by the Walkway over the Hudson, a visit to the Hepworth Farm, an ice cream social at All Shook Up in Arlington and Baking Breakfast for Finals. To be notified about their weekly events, keep tabs on their Facebook page, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to be put on the mailing list.