this post was written in 2017, but i’ve forgotten to post in two years in a row. updates from 2019 are in italics.
You learn a lot of things in college, like the effect of dielectrics on capacitance (what I should‘ve been studying for my 8.02 exam right now, but I’m not) and how the Qing Dynasty made a deal with the Dalai Lama about who they could reincarnate as. But you also learn some unexpected things about yourself, like how much of a trashcan you can tolerate your room being and whether you are a member of the quitter’s club (email@example.com) or are a commitment whore.
But you also learn just how much (or little) you know about surviving.
For those of us accustomed to the convenience and magic of the dining hall, the independent activities period, referred to as IAP, can be a rude awakening. One month. Without the dining plan. Suddenly the country kitchen is filled with people around 6pm everyday, kitchen cabinets are actually in high demand, and scavenging drastically increases. I swear it’s probably the first time some of us have gone to a grocery store since our moms last dragged us. Non-cookers scramble to latch onto a cooker. The aisles of Shaws are scraped of junk food and instant ramen. And then, of course, there are the ones who live off granola bars and McDonald’s or Domino’s (which shows up almost every night).
Those in cook-for-yourself dorms go “whaaat? we’ve been doing this all of first semester! it’s not that hard!” (You might even hear a whisper of “chipotle meal plan”). But I can assure you, the results of a “Get Fed” chart depicting people to the number of meals they ate that day would be concerning. And nutritional value of meals is another matter entirely (I’m still surprised how some people don’t have scurvy).
Going into IAP is a struggle, but thankfully for me, under the guidance of my wonderful sister, I had inevitably picked up some cooking skill. And over winter break, I stocked up on cooking supplies like pans, pots, and tupperware. As a survivor, I shall be sharing a couple tips/”recipes” for surviving IAP.
1. Food is Important
Accept this fact of life. Consuming food is a good. Do not be too lazy to eat. No, boba does not count. …yes, pizza does count. But it may not be advisable to only eat pizza… Try to eat twice a day. Everyday. If you’re feeling ambitious, try and climb the Nutritional Pyramid.
1.1 Join a Food Support Group
If you’re having a hard time making sure you’re eating and find yourself wondering, did I only eat a bowl of cup ramen today? for several days; you might consider finding a group of friends who have been/are cooking and join their endeavors. (Pika offers a free IAP meal plan too! Just help cook and clean) And if you can’t get in on that, maybe just find friends who can keep you accountable.
There’s free food. Hiding in classes (shameless plug, check out web.lab which I’ll be teaching this year and has provided me lunch the last two years). Your friends will have extras occasionally or “strike” some back from an event. Take advantage of that. IAP is chockful of catered talks and workshops (check out some of CMSW’s offerings for 2019). And this 2019, every Monday from 5-7pm there will be free hot meals being served in W11. SwipeShare is also active over IAP and you can request meal swipes for Baker from this form. Pro-scavengers often share calendars of free meal events and have proved time and time again that it’s a viable IAP lifestyle.
3. Go Out to Eat
There’s not a ton of great, cheap options around MIT, but the Chipotle meal plan does work. If you’ve got a smaller stomach, a burrito bowl can feed for two meals and (if you hit more than just meat) can be nutritious. That’s approx. $4.50 a meal. I would not recommend going out to eat as your sole survival strategy – it tends to be more expensive than cooking for yourself. But it can be good to go out and have some not student-experiment-food every once in a while.
4. “I’m trying to be healthy can’t you see”
This is a strat for trying to eat healthy. Ask yourself: “does this look healthy?” If you have a good intuition of what a healthy meal looks like, self-reflecting helps. In general, if you can see more colors than yellow-orange in your meal (and it’s not burnt), you’re probably having more than one food group (potato chips) which is pretty good. By no means is this a catch all method, and heavily relies on your background knowledge. But on that note, this IAP 2019, I’ll be running and Instagram account with all the meals I’ll be having (@jynneats). And as millennial I feel saying it, I’ve found the more “instagrammable” a meal, the more likely it’s kinda healthy.
5. Wash Your Dishes
Even if you’re borrowing cookware. Do your communal-kitchen-mates, your roommates, your immune system a favor and wash your dishes, knives, pans, etc. with soap and water. The only exception to that is if you’ve got some special cookware thing and have been told to not use soap. If you don’t know, ask. Please.
6. If you don’t know, Ask.
Is this cooked through? Should I use oil? Can I microwave this? Don’t assume. Ask. Someone (your friend, the other person cooking in the kitchen, Alexa, Reddit, not How to Basic) knows. Trust me, I was embarrassed to ask, but the food turned out well and the fire alarm didn’t go off. And that’s what counts.