Coffee, Community, and DC Meal Culture – Dori-Taylor Carter

OUT ON THE HILL is the official blog of the Victory Congressional Interns. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of LGBTQ Victory Institute. Learn more about the internship at victoryinstitute.org/vci


There’s a new podcast that I’m really into: Dish City. This Washington, D.C. podcast is a refreshing mix of everything I’m coming to love to learn about this city. On the train to work, I listen to the history of brunch that puts D.C. work culture into perspective. I let the traffic bustle around me as I take in the story of the D.C. Vietnamese community and its growth through the history of food institutions, from Clarendon to Falls Church. With such a thriving cuisine culture and exciting restaurants all throughout the city, some new and others just new to me, I feel sustained by the way I can let my daily meals become a source of sustenance for the soul.

Sometimes it’s as simple as bringing an extra protein bar to work in case someone else needs something to eat. Other times, it’s a larger gesture: inviting folks over for Sunday brunch, with guests following their noses down the halls of our George Washington University dorm apartments to find a platter of refried black beans, plantains, avocado spread, toast, eggs, sausage, and pancakes. This meal, hosted in my kitchen, was an opportunity for everyone to get together, enjoy each other’s company, and celebrate, for no particular reason. An afternoon meal made possible by folks pitching in their cooking utensils and orange juice. In a work culture that seems to demand insincerity and transactional conversations over free dessert, it felt like a reset to make something from scratch for no other reason than wanting to hang out with people whose company we enjoyed.

There have been times throughout this program where I have felt severely disheartened and disconnected from my work. Despite my best efforts, I’ve been made to feel as if my competencies and interests are irrelevant or unwanted. In a cutthroat work environment with an immense feeling of pressure to perform, I’ve wondered how my goals fit in here. I don’t know if I’ll have the opportunity to work on Capitol Hill again. I have a very specific goal for this internship that aligns with my research and career prospects, hopefully rounding out my interdisciplinary portfolio for my upcoming graduate school applications. In many ways, my perspective isn’t easily translated into the language of this workplace. I wonder if it should be. It feels that some things shouldn’t be made to fit the contours of these halls. The pure joy of sharing a meal together that I’ve cherished as a way to show love, to sustain one another, and to learn about the world we inhabit feels tainted by thirty-minute lunches spent alone, sometimes poring over laptops and desktops to meet deadlines in cold, air-conditioned offices. Meals should be more than networking opportunities. They should be moments for pause.

Yet, perhaps my inability to fit neatly into a cubicle for my lunch break can push back against the rigidity of the rules I’ve faced. I am inspired by the moments when my interests and goals happen to align with someone else’s, in unexpected ways. I have the opportunity to fit my passion for understanding racial categories and state sponsored statistic-taking into innovative marine science endeavors, only made possible after sharing about my passions and dreams of pursuing a PhD over a homemade meal with a staffer who had recently left academia. I have invited fellow interns to leave the freezing office to enjoy lunch in the sun, braving the DC heat and humidity for 20 minutes to regain warmth and calm in front of a dazzling fountain. I am carving my way out of this place captivated by the moments of clarity and curiosity, and always craving a scone from the basement of the Cannon Building. Could I offer you a coffee sometime soon? No expectations or conversational scripts necessary.