Eat like Seeple by joining SIPA Eats

On our blog, we often talk about repetitive, but necessary topics, like the admissions process and the curriculum. But there’s so much more SIPA has to offer outside of the classroom. Thus, I’m sharing a post by Program Assistant Katherine McGehee, MIA ’15, regarding one of SIPA’s newest student groups, SIPA Eats. SIPA has 46 active student organizations, and SIPA Eats has become one of the graduate school’s most talked about groups.

Paul Rockower, considered the leading expert on gastro diplomacy (yes, this is a field of study in public affairs!), wrote an article a few years ago to define this theory, in which he noted, “Gastro diplomacy is predicated on the notion that the easiest way to win hearts and minds is through the stomach.”

Current SIPA students have taken this view to heart with their participation in SIPA Eats. The group leads students on international culinary adventures by organizing monthly, dining-out events to try different cuisines from around the world, right in New York City restaurants. (SIPA Eats has explored cuisines from Dominican, Greek, Lebanese and Vietnamese restaurants, to name a few.) When you combine the world’s most global policy school with one of the world’s most international cities, the outcome can be delicious!

As SIPA Eats’ tagline reads: Five boroughs, three meals a day, thousands of restaurants, two years at SIPA: prepare to eat!

Through SIPA Eats, students have the chance to learn about different cuisines, cultures, and discover new parts of the city. Oftentimes, students from a particular country lead their peers in trying food from their homeland by selecting the restaurant to visit and by guiding fellow students with their food selections.

Lydia Tomkiw, MIA ’15, founded SIPA Eats in 2013 with the simple idea of exploring the culinary world throughout NYC. “I think it’s just a great way for a lot of people to try things they never would think of on their own,” Tomkiw told The Morningside Post, SIPA’s student-run newspaper. She recently described the wonderful experiences of participating in SIPA Eats in her Raphael Smith Memorial Prize-winning essay, “A Table for 15, Please” (p. 46-47). Here’s an excerpt from “A Table for 15, Please”:

I stand outside the 116th subway stop in all kinds of weather—sunshine, rain, and snow. I get there early and wait for everyone else. Exactly at noon, a few other students join me. We stand in a half circle against the main Columbia gates while we shake hands, learn each other’s names, and run through the typical SIPA bio: “Hi, I’m Lydia, EPD, IMAC, originally from California.” Inevitably, someone calls me on my cell phone. “I’m five minutes away. Please don’t leave without me. I’m hungry.” Ten minutes later we are on a train heading to the distant borough of Queens in the neighborhood of Astoria, but really we’re heading to a seaside town in Brazil.

When I applied to SIPA, a statistic struck me: more than 50 countries are represented in the student body. My first thought was, “Wow, this will make for fascinating classroom discussions.” My second thought was much less academically inclined. “Fifty countries mean 50 different types of cuisine. That’s a lot of amazing food!” Then I began Googling; SIPA must have a food club of sorts, right? When I found out there wasn’t one, I did what any student would do—I started a Facebook group, SIPA Eats, with a simple goal: “Five boroughs, three meals a day, thousands of restaurants, two years at SIPA: prepare to eat!” The group has more than 400 hungry members today.

SIPA Eats will continue next year, and will hopefully continue as a SIPA tradition. Currently, Lydia is in the process of creating an alumni group for people to meet up and eat around the world.

—Katherine McGehee, MIA ’15