from “Back Again,” new chapter written for the Tenth Anniversary Edition
A lot of my life experiences over the past decade have deepened my understanding of privilege. I graduated from Duke in the spring of 2009, at the peak of an economic crisis. I applied determinedly to jobs that required a college degree in the sciences, but didn’t land a single interview because I was in competition with applicants who had doctorates and decades of field experience. After spending just enough time back in my parents’ house to get extremely restless, I decided to move to Asheville, North Carolina with no promise of a job. Somehow I just felt confident I would like it there. I rented a room in a house downtown and was amazed to get two job offers by the end of my first week, both in food service. I'd worked in restaurant kitchens throughout college because my upbringing gave me the knife skills and knowledge of ingredients necessary to hold my own on a line. For all those years I'd enjoyed the familiar rhythms of food prep, and as a student I appreciated the escape from academia. I didn’t love the condescension of customers, including fellow students who’d sat across from me in a seminar just hours earlier but didn’t recognize me in my work uniform. But the work kept me humble, something I valued almost as much as my biweekly paychecks. It hadn't necessarily been my plan to continue working in restaurants after earning a bachelor’s degree, but in a new, post-crash economy those were the jobs I could find and I was grateful. I avoided discussing my education with coworkers because they tended to assume, once they found out I had a degree from Duke, that I considered our daily work to be beneath me. But I never felt that way. Cooking in a restaurant kitchen is hard, and it's important, whether or not you have a degree from a fancy college.