I have been putting off writing this post for a while, and mostly because the question it puts forth still doesn’t have an answer. But I don’t think I’m going to get an answer any time soon, so enough dancing around it and let’s get down to business.
Like most of my stories, I have to start in Florence during my semester abroad. That’s where all of this really started in the first place anyway.
As some of you know, I took 2 food courses there that were essentially the basis of the beginnings of my love of the food world. For 3 hours every Monday morning I sat in a room in Palazzo Strozzi for Food & Culture, an anthropology survey course that explored the many ways in which food affects and is affected by its own culture (and others, for that matter). I am quite sure I have never so looked forward to 9 o’clock am on a Monday before in my life. I had no idea that food could be discussed and studied in such a different and fascinating ways, and I really loved everything I learned in that class. I remember sitting there, thinking, “I could do this for the rest of my life.”
For a different 3 hours every Thursday afternoon, I made the 5-minute walk to the kitchen on Faenza for my cooking course, Topics In Nutrition: Italian-Style Cooking. This was one of the highlights of every one of my weeks there – and I had a lot of really good weeks in Florence. I have never been much of a cook; I like exact measurements and structure, and cooking generally requires letting go of those things, at least to an extent. This class was really my first remotely-formal introduction to cooking in general and I just loved it because I wasn’t just learning things for a test, but absorbing the material to practice over and over again. And, of course, there was the actual food we made – probably some of the best meals I ate in Italy were from that classroom. The professor was one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever had as a teacher – very friendly, genuine, and loves his job. He was an absolute pleasure to be in class with for three hours and he made it all just fun. I distinctly remember feeling torn exactly in half about these 2 classes when asked which I liked more – there was just no way to choose. And that is the choice, in essence, that I am faced with now.
After visiting the Culinary Institute of America in New York the summer between Florence & my senior year, I was pretty sure that it was the place for me. I was continuing the blog, and the idea of food writing took an a great deal of appeal to me. I am a baker, through and through, and the idea of going somewhere where everyone loved food as much as I do and learning all the intricacies of baking & pastry was very, very exciting. I was dimly aware of other options, like a Master’s in Gastronomy, but culinary school seemed like a good fit for me. When I visited the CIA in California, I was pretty much sold. All the beauty & prestige of the NY campus, with better weather and wineries everywhere. If I was gonna do it, I was gonna do it right.
I sent in my application. I graduated college. I moved in with my aunt & uncle to intern in a restaurant kitchen down the street from their house. (The CIA requires 6 months of food prep experience, and sadly for me, 3 summers as a barista do not count.) And then I had the inevitable I-just-graduated-from-college-and-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing-anymore panic attack. That, and the fact that I pretty much hated my [non-paying] job led to a lot of rethinking. A LOT. First, there was Italy. After a couple weeks’ worth of bureaucratic hell and a major change in the school’s program, it seemed to make less sense to pursue it (and you cannot imagine how difficult it was to let that go). So I turned to Boston University’s Gastronomy program. Founded by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin, this program is pretty kick-ass. The faculty is really impressive (and Pepin himself comes back to teach occasionally!), and the incredibly diverse range of course topics is tempting to even the remotely foodcurious. I was increasingly certain that this was the path that made more sense for me.
Ah, but nothing is ever that simple, is it. For a good month, I have changed my mind at least a dozen times…per day. I’m split right down the middle again, between my inner academic & my inner baker. I love talking about and researching food, its cultural role, its history. But when I get in the kitchen and start baking, I start wishing I knew more about baking itself. I turn positively green with jealousy when I hear about a new cupcake shop opening, wishing I could work there…but then I read an article about a new cookbook or study done on food policy and i ‘m swayed again. Culinary school scares the crap out of me, which I find rather exciting, but academics are where I know I have a lot of talent and aptitude. When I throw the thought of possible careers into the mix, the picture only gets blurrier. What kind of connections would I get if I chose one over the other? Does it matter? Should I stick with what I’m good at, or see where learning a new skill set gets me? And then there’s the issue of location – Boston is home, but the CIA opens the door to somewhere completely new, and I have only to remember Florence to know what a new place can do for a person. [Unfortunately or otherwise, cost has no real place in this tug-of-war; let’s just say, I’ve accepted the fact that I will be needing a paying job sooner rather than later.] It’s become a nasty cycle that doesn’t appear to be stopping anytime soon.
I’ve tried everything. I’ve looked into shorter-term baking programs (with lighter price tags), I’ve sent away for information from all of the other masters in food studies programs in the country (a whopping 2), I’ve made pro-con lists out the yin-yang. I’ve spoken with graduates and representatives from all schools. I’ve talked about it with family, friends & co-workers. And I’m running low on energy and sanity. You wanna talk about sustainability? This constant mental tug-of-war is definitely not sustainable.
I hope I haven’t bored your brains out; I’ve been needing to write this out. It’s the only thing I haven’t tried!
I suppose it all comes down to what I really want. As long as we’re being honest here, I suppose what I’d really like is a job. A steady, full-time paying job that I’m good at and like doing and allows me to live independently. And don’t you even think any of that “well welcome to my world” crap. This is no time to bring reality into the picture.
I think I’d just really appreciate being able to work for a while, maybe gain a little perspective before jumping back into…whatever the hell I want to jump into. If nothing else, to have something stored away to help counter the very heavy price tag of continuing my education. But that just adds another thing to think about to the list and I’m really not sure my brain can handle that.
I would also settle for marrying Wes Welker. Cute, funny, and plays for the right team? Wes, call me.
So, that’s my existential crisis of the week. Care to share any of yours? Whaddaya got?