Some students opt to ‘cook for themselves’ using dining hall ingredients

Ami Tian

Photo Credit : Cornelius

Because Whitman generally requires underclassmen to live on campus and take meals through one of Bon Appétit’s meal plans, many students have opted to cook their own meals using raw or otherwise unprepared ingredients taken from Jewett and Prentiss dining halls.

Susan Todhunter, Prentiss Dining Hall manager, clarified that this is actually allowed, depending on the quantities of food taken, citing the official Bon Appétit policy on taking food out from the dining halls.

“Students are allowed to take food out if it’s the amount of what they’d consume for that meal,” she said.

Sophomore Jessi Whalen regularly takes vegetables from the salad bar to make stir-fries. She said that she is sometimes dissatisfied with the types of food served in the dining halls, and echoed the criticism common among those who choose to cook for themselves: that dining hall food is unhealthy.

“A lot of the stuff is too greasy for me, or I don’t like the vegetarian options,” said Whalen. “Also I don’t think they use enough vegetables [in their entrees].”

Students’ aversion to dining hall food is not necessarily due to an issue with food quality, but rather the knowledge of how the food is made and which ingredients are used. Some students are just not as comfortable eating food that they have not prepared themselves.

“I really do not like eating stuff when I don’t know what’s in it,” said sophomore Lesli Meekins. “So even with dining hall pizza, I look at it and go, ‘Okay, I don’t know what’s in this. Is it like, boiled in butter or whatever?'”

Cooking one’s own food, then, is not so much a rebellion against dining hall food as it is a sure way of knowing and controlling what one eats.

“I like cooking because I can know what’s in my food,” Meekins said. “The dining hall gets frustrating sometimes because I don’t know anything about the food.”

Students who cook for themselves often get creative with what they make using the dining hall ingredients. Meekins uses her bread machine to make pizza dough, topping her pizzas with raw ingredients and occasionally sauce taken from the dining hall.

“I just use my bread machine and put in some flour that my mom sent me, and then steal all the vegetables and sometimes chicken from the salad bar,” Meekins said. “And then if I can manage it, I steal some sauce from the spaghetti line.”

Sophomore Katie Lei recalled making cookies from an unlikely combination of salad bar ingredients: tofu, yogurt, cereal and carrots. The recipe was born in a moment of necessity: she’d run out of eggs.

“I’d heard that you can use tofu as an egg substitute, and so I got tofu from the salad bar, and I was like, ‘What else could you put in cookies?’ And so I ended up using all of the normal chocolate cookie ingredients except eggs, and then tofu, vanilla yogurt, grape nuts and carrots: the shredded salad bar carrots: and they turned out pretty well,” Lei said.

Lei, however, felt that dining hall food was not lacking in any way, and lauded Bon Appétit’s attempts to meet the numerous demands of the student body.

“I think that they [Bon Appétit] really try to give us options; it’s kind of hard when you’re trying to cater to the needs of so many people at once while having people demand that you be sustainable and not wasteful but then also that you offer a bunch of choices. I think they do a pretty good job of balancing [those demands],” she said.

At the same time, Lei also expressed that students should be given more flexibility in choosing whether to eat at the dining halls or to cook for themselves.

“It would also be nice if there was some way to incorporate getting raw ingredients into the meal plan so people could cook for themselves,” she said. “Especially for interest houses, because that would be cool. Like, instead of ordering whatever they have for one day, you could just ask for a bunch of vegetables.”

Photo Credit : Cornelius

Residents of the Interest House Community, typically sophomores, are still required to be on a meal plan, but instead of visiting the dining hall they order food for house dinners and Bon Appétit delivers it to them.

But for Lei, it was not the dining hall food itself, but rather the mandatory nature of the meal plan that inspired her to put dining hall ingredients to a creative use. The rigidity and costliness of the meal plan also makes students feel justified in taking food out of the dining halls.

“I mean the fact that I paid eight dollars to swipe into a meal and maybe had a piece of toast and a bowl of cereal: I don’t feel bad taking more food out. I think a lot of people would agree on that. When you know that the meal plan is so expensive and that all of the food is there: I don’t know, I feel like it evens out,” said Lei.