Off-campus students weigh options to cooking healthy meals on budget

Kate Robinette

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For two years, Whitman students have access to prepared healthy food options at least three times a day via Bon Appétit meal plans. But what do students do after those first two years of obligatory responsible eating? Students may preach healthy eating, but when they find themselves hungry and facing an empty kitchen instead of a bustling dining hall, what actually occurs?

Johnny Zimmerman '11 (left), Curtis Reid '10 (center) and Ali Schlueter '11 (right) prepare curry and enchiladas in their off-campus homes. Photos by Brandon Fennell

Some busy students value ease of preparation when making decision about what and how to eat.

“It’s whatever you can get in your starving stomach fastest and get on with your day,” said senior Christine Simbolon.

Some also value taste.

“I’d like to say that I think about nutritional value, but that’s not the case when going out … Generally it comes down to ‘Will I like this combination of ingredients together?’ when trying to create a gastronomic experience rather than trying to set up a functional meal,” senior Logan Skirm said.

Others prioritize health factors, like senior Alex Kearns.

“The best part [of controlling my own meals] for me is knowing the health benefits of it, knowing exactly what I’m getting,” Kearns said.

Senior Anastasia Higham and her housemates represent those students who prioritize local and organic foods, but she acknowledges how students are also constrained to varying degrees by their undergraduate budgets.

“Cost is definitely a factor of course, especially when … going out, but also my house particularly [seeks] organic and local, at least as much as possible on a budget,” she said. “We get the made in Walla Walla box which is great … we got beets recently and a whole huge thing of garbanzo beans, and you can just Google what to do with them.”

But not all students actually know how to cook beyond searching for recipes via online search engines. Many students would rather go to a restaurant downtown or eat frozen meals than attempt to cook.

“My mom bought me four cans of Pam when I moved off-campus, thinking I’d use them when I cooked.  And then I discovered [Tacqueria Yungapeti, a restaurant downtown] and I’ve yet to use one of them more than once,” said Simbolon, who, when eating at home, relies on prepared frozen dishes.

“When I grocery shop I walk up and down the aisles and I see what looks good and I grab it…Hell no, [I don’t] look up recipes or ingredients,” she said.

However, some students practice cooking and have good intentions towards developing good skills and an eye for healthy meals.

“I actually tried meeting with a professor to learn how to cook this summer,” said Skirm. “We didn’t get particularly far but I like to think the interest is there. I appreciate good food and I’d like to learn.”

“My mom slowly taught me certain dishes and the rest of it’s been experimentation,” said Kearns. “[She also] taught me particular skills like how to slice vegetables … and then I kind of just smash them together … [But] I burn things a lot … Once I burned mac and cheese so bad the pan had little elbow shapes burned into it for months afterward.”

Higham bases her experience on learning from people like housemates or her boyfriend.

“I’m not to [their] level yet, but I have a lot of fun learning from them and cooking with them. I get a lot of chopping and grating jobs,” said Higham.

This enjoyment highlights a surprising commonality found in Whitman students: the community and togetherness of their eating: whether preparing and eating together with housemates or going out with friends or even getting to know staff at restaurants downtown.

Third and fourth-year students may not be going down to section meals dressed in togas together anymore, but these Whitties still seem to value the social side of meals as much as ever.