Between the luscious greenery of the Nature Preserve and the Nova Lox sandwich at Einstein’s, there’s a lot on Binghamton University’s campus to be grateful for. For example, the Food Co-op: Opened in 1975, it is a student-run slice of vegan heaven hidden in the basement of the newly renovated University Union Undergrounds.

The Food Co-op provides more than just a healthy and hearty meal — it supplies the atmosphere, the community and the organic, wholesome vibes you desperately need to get you through your week. It is a longtime staple of various organic, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and locally sourced options from farms around the Southern Tier on this campus. The Food Co-op closed due to the University Union renovations in summer 2019, and with its reopening after renovations, there’s an art initiative to paint a map of the northeastern United States on the wall. The map will be updated to display the origins of the seasonal produce used in the Food Co-op’s dishes, connecting local farmers to students and the greater Binghamton community.

A welcome change from the restrictive options found elsewhere on campus, the multi-varied kitchen offers students the ability to meet their hedonic desires within the boundaries of their preferred diets. Run wholly by volunteers, student chefs prepare competition-quality food every morning, serving daily hot lunches rich with stunning colors, intensely flavorful proteins, creative sides and, most importantly, mouthwatering desserts. Sitting at the round hand-painted tables adorned with patterns of sliced fruits and vegetables, you can enjoy a meal good for your heart, free of preservatives and as natural as can be. It’s good for your mind and good for your soul, joined by friends, family and oftentimes welcomed professors.

You don’t have to be vegan or dress in thrifted clothes to find a home here. As someone who has worked there for close to three years, I can assure you its inhabitants would be happy to talk to you about why they do what they do. You don’t have to commit to the crunchy granola, hippie, environmentalist aura or even wear flannel shirts — though it sure is a comfy way of life. You walk into this space as you are, and leave it fuller, in all physical, mental and emotional senses of the word. Every day you leave enriched with food, with community, with experience and with discussion. And on Friday nights, you leave with the sounds of Binghamton-based bands and local performers, all looking forward to the following week’s menu.

Should you be interested in following the trail of freshly made ground coffee in the morning, or homemade vegan vanilla lavender cookies around noon, it lies right at your fingertips. Nestled under the University Union, the Food Co-op is finally reopening its doors after great anticipation and much celebration from all those who find a family there. The year’s first full week of service will start on Monday, Feb. 24. On Friday, Feb. 28, there will be a grand reopening party featuring student music, art and undoubtedly the most lovingly prepared food you can find on campus. Everyone will be welcome to contribute to the new art adorning the walls and the space of the Food Co-op.

The Food Co-op is not just a kitchen, dining hall nor an eatery. It’s an incredibly beautiful culinary, communal and artistic experience. It’s the place where you can sit and bring your homework next to a steaming mug of tea, a space where you can close your eyes and listen to a friendly, and quite often, handsome someone plucking away at guitar strings; a home where you are given the opportunity to be whoever you want to be and experience conversations welcomed through vibrant opinions. The Food Co-op is a place to learn — about who you are, the significance of your community and the impact of this little spot in our big school. But of course, above all, there is food. Food that reminds you what a Sodexo-free life really tastes like.

Hannah Gulko is a senior majoring in human development.