I was never big on crackers growing up. The only crackers I’d ever had in the United Arab Emirates were salty and dry. You could argue I didn’t consume them the right way, but that didn’t matter to me. However, there’s one set of crackers that has intrigued me since 2019: animal crackers.
I was an up-and-coming freshman writer at the Cardinal during fall 2019. Rather unexpectedly, I got the opportunity to become an opinion editor for 2020. I was apprehensive about it, mainly because I was such a fresh face. I’d already made contributions to three desks, but ironically, I’d contributed to the opinion desk the least of the three. I’d even considered writing for the features desk instead. I ended up going with the opinion desk.
It was a gut feeling. My gut doesn’t always feel right, but I guess that wasn’t one of those occasions.
My election took place at the end of the semester. It was a quiet affair as the Last Night Of Print — also known as LNOP — had already passed. Despite being the only candidate for the position, I was nervous. I motored through the questions I got asked. But then, I faced a question that stopped me in my tracks. Not because it was challenging but because it came out of left field.
“Do you think animal crackers are crackers or cookies?”
Considering I’d never tried animal crackers or even heard of them then, I could only be honest about my ignorance. Thankfully, it didn’t stop me from landing the gig and since then, I’ve been on both ends of multiple elections. This question has been a staple to ease the nerves of aspiring editors. It is part of modern Cardinal tradition. Every election I was a part of made me want to try the crackers even more. However, the pandemic had me spend sophomore year back home, hanging on for dear life. This meant I had to wait until last fall before I could get my hands on animal crackers.
I decided to trot into our office last December for the Fall 2021 LNOP — the first in-person LNOP I got to experience, despite my years of being around. This was the evening I had heard enough animal cracker talk. It was now time to go and get myself a pack. I turned to the folks at the Cardinal to get recommendations and ended up spending an embarrassingly long time at the Target on State Street locating my packet.
Not long after purchasing, I decided to try them out and see what the fuss was about. I had the definitions of “cracker” and “cookie” open in front of me. I wanted to answer the question as objectively as I could. The first bite was better than I could’ve imagined. It was sweet but not overpowering. I had one, and then I couldn’t stop.
After evaluating the texture and taste and the definitions I had before me, I concluded that animal crackers are, indeed, sweet crackers. For me, it’s the dry texture that makes it a cracker and not a cookie. A cookie crumbles differently than a cracker, in my opinion. I recall people mentioning frosted crackers in their election responses. I imagine frosting would make it a harder call. But in this case, I’d go with “cracker” over “cookie.” I now wholly understood the raging nature of the debate.
The packet only lasted a few days, as I would munch crackers at the most random moments in the day. The animal shapes weren’t always well-formed, but I couldn’t care less. The whole experience left me satisfied. Not just because of the taste, or that I finally ticked an item off my checklist. There was more to it. There was the sweet but faint taste of belonging.
You see, everyone at the Cardinal has typically treated me well. As a foreigner, you certainly don’t want to feel like an outsider. However, questions like these make me feel like something’s missing. I can talk about most things on an intellectual level. In fact, I find such conversations with depth the best. But as a foreigner, I am ignorant about certain day-to-day things that make up small talk. This means I cannot always relate. The pandemic did not help either. My experience was one of Zoom meetings and walls of text, with a soul-crushing time difference to boot. It felt like speaking into a void most of the time. A void that had me on edge, prone to poor decisions and loss of restraint. A void that heavily damaged me.
The crumbs of these crackers reminded me what the Cardinal is really all about. I felt like that fresh-faced kid in 2019 again. I felt grateful. I felt life anew.
This question of animal crackers being crackers or cookies is a rite of passage for all aspiring editors at the Cardinal, but it was even more so for me. Trying the crackers out and coming up with an answer, right or not, was a means to feeling less foreign in a foreign land.
At the end of the day, the answer to this question does not matter. The question is a ticket to a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I thank my lucky stars for.