Plate of the Union: Leo’s is where the heart is

November 20, 2013

If you knew how many times since coming to Georgetown I’ve made it home for Thanksgiving, you might say I’m a bad kid. As a senior, I’ve managed to make the trek back to Minnesota only once.

Freshman year, I made what I thought was a noble decision to stay in D.C. That year, I enjoyed the company of hundreds of strangers in Leo’s for Thanksgiving dinner before returning to VCE to cry from homesickness for hours. As a junior, I celebrated Thanksgiving at Georgetown’s villa in Alanya—insert pun here about eating turkey in Turkey—but there, too, my heart ached for American stuffing and pumpkin pie.

This year, I’ve made the choice to stay in D.C. once again. But this time around, my family is coming to me. We’ll sit down for Thanksgiving dinner with a small gaggle of West-coasters and those unwilling to fork out the cash to fly home twice in the span of three weeks.

I anticipate that it will be a wonderful mix of dietary restrictions and cooking abilities. I absolutely cannot wait to make a mess in the kitchen, laugh at stories, and collapse in a food-coma with friends and family.

My excitement for this Thanksgiving in particular, I think, is based in my appreciation of the power of shared meals in building relationships between near strangers. I’m not at all worried that my purple-haired microbiologist mother will get along with a linguistics-obsessed roommate, or that my college-bound sister will find something to talk about with a sassy fellow Minnesotan.

Since coming to Georgetown, I’ve learned that food can both forge relationships quickly and lay the foundation for long-lasting, meaningful friendships.

Take, for example, my experience this summer on a Blue Cruise, a four-day boat tour of the Turkish Mediterranean coastline. I had no idea what to expect before boarding the boat, a small skipper called Mad Life. My friends and I climbed on board in the late afternoon with 13 total strangers from all around the world, and it was initially a bit difficult to find a common topic of conversation. In the half-hour leading up to our first meal, we sat in near silence staring across the empty table at the bizarre collection of people that found themselves on the same boat.

Thanks to the silence, we could hear Hakan, the trusty second-in-command, hard at work chopping tomatoes and cucumbers and cooking delicious köfte meatballs below deck. Once dinner was served, there was a split second of awkwardness in piling food onto plates, and then—poof!—the nervousness lifted, and we began talking and sharing incredibly intimate stories of our lives, our families, and our failures.

Over the course of four days, we spent many hours around the massive table situated in the back of the boat. There, we lingered for hours over bread and honey, eating and sharing.

It was amazing how quickly we dropped any feelings of shyness after the first serving plates came out on the table.

I’ll always think back on that experience fondly, but when the trees on Copley Lawn look more and more naked every day, it can be painful to think about such stories from summer. But we don’t have to embark on a sunny boating adventure to find another instance of community built in food. We just have to walk down Library Road.

You got it—let’s talk about Leo’s. At this point in the semester, hating on Leo’s has become a favorite pastime of freshmen, and sophomores are dreaming of junior year housing and the opportunity to throw off the shackles of a mandatory meal plan. Despite the commonly held view that Leo’s is where appetites go to die, in actuality, Leo’s is probably the greatest gift to Georgetown students for its capacity to foster bonds and create fond college memories.

I’m not exaggerating here. Some of the Georgetown memories I hold nearest and dearest to my heart happened in Leo’s. Only there could I talk for hours upon hours about my hometown, just how dirty Darnall is, and last week’s Problem of God class while chowing down on meat substitute ribs. There was nowhere better to spend Sunday morning to go over the previous night’s escapades and nurse a Burnett’s-induced hangover.

Now, I walk past Leo’s and see herds of freshmen exiting the building with their heads thrown back with laughter and joy. Sure, their jackets and hair reek of that classic Leo’s smell, but by God, they look like they’ve had an amazing time. It’s days like this that I wish I were a S.E.A.L.

So wherever you are next week, remember that Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be the only day of the year to experience that warm fuzzy feeling of food-coma and camaraderie. Appreciate the power of sharing a meal in your everyday life.

Next time you’re in Leo’s and it’s too crowded to occupy your own table upstairs, don’t be shy if a stranger asks to sit with you. After all, you never know what sort of bond can be forged over a bowl of Leo’s chili on a Chicken Finger Thursday.

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