It’s 10:31 p.m. on a Monday night, and we’re posted up just outside Uncommon Grounds in Sellinger Lounge — our favorite spot for undergrad people-watching.

We spy a group of scrubbed pre-med students crowded around a wobbly table over by Bulldog Alley, poring over thick biology textbooks with steaming cups of coffee loyally by their side and a bag of Doritos spilling over an overflowing notebook. On the other end of the room, we peer through the Plexiglas window at a pair of GUSA workers fervently governing, manically poking around every so often to scrounge for a cookie — a feat they’ve learned to accomplish without even removing their eyes from laptop screens.

At 11:57 p.m., three reclusive editors from our very own HOYA shuffle down to UG to retrieve a night’s worth of caffeine for the rest of the newspaper office, which will no doubt be up until the morning’s early hours, finishing up the product that you are now reading. In line too is a contingent from the debate team who continue their lofty, intellectual discussions while they, like the rest of us, refuel on caffeine and calories for the coming hours of research up in the Leavey attics.

It’s now 12:08 a.m., and various students sporting dark circles under their eyes emerge from the shadows to scavenge on the unused bagels and pastries that the last shift of UG leaves on the Sellinger Lounge tables before closing up.

The endless efficiency of these and other Georgetowners depends on espressos, chais, Luna bars, Pringles and even half-hardened leftover bagels — as not just sustenance, but a way to form alliances, declare their opinions and get to know one another. And this model doesn’t just apply to Sellinger on a weeknight. We are interacting through food all the time: at 3 a.m. on a Saturday in Epicurean, at noon in Leo’s, in the Wisey’s sandwich rush at noon or 6:30 p.m.

The act of sharing a meal or drink is a fundamental social interaction, free from the formality of a conference room but bound by its own strict etiquette, which is by no means uniform. In this vein, we view Georgetown’s culture of food as a microcosm for the political world at large. This column is dedicated to our findings on the political and cultural links that food has to the District.

When dining becomes social, its purpose on the Hill as well as its criteria change. Several of the city’s swankiest restaurants have developed over decades into magnets for the political elite, as well as laypeople and tourists hoping to witness power in action.

Just as the major decisions of the Georgetown student body are often made over UG bagels or casual beers at the Tombs, the same is true for politicians, lobbyists and bureaucrats who meet in the famed bars and restaurants that have become beltway staples, such as Le Diplomate and Charlie Palmer Steak.
Located close to the Capitol, Le Diplomate is the most famous of these hubs, drawing droves of political dinner dates and wealthy out-of-towners each night to feast on traditional French fare or hundred-dollar seafood plateaus. Closer to Georgetown’s Hilltop, the posh Cafe Milano often plays host to Vice President Biden, as well senators with a breadth of political leanings.

Closer to home, the famed D.C. dinner party plays an even more intimate role in the politosphere. Who’s invited, what’s on the menu and what circulates through conversation can translate into action on the floors of the House and the Senate.

To be clear, rather than discussing food as a serious international policy concern (which it is), we’ll be exploring the places where food is integral to the process of policymaking itself. The restaurants, dining rooms, bars and, of course, lobbies of Washington have functioned as offices and meeting rooms for the District’s elite. From the Georgetown dinner parties held in the 1950s and 1960s between powerhouse families such as the Grahams and the Kennedys to the cafeteria lunches shared by the lowliest congressional aides in a more recent era, we will demonstrate how intrigue has always flowed more freely over food than over fax.

While the world often resents these “backroom beltway deals” and “powerful D.C. lobbies,” this column will be an attempt to find a silver lining to this established culture of doing political business in an intimate setting. As students in D.C., while we’re a few years away from actual participation in these dinner table power plays, with luck we’ll be able to sit at a table close by: eat what they eat, drink what they drink and let the food of this city fuel political conversations of our own.

Chardack and Berk are juniors in the College. Political Digest appears every other Friday.

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