There is no hobby quite like cooking. There’s just something about working with your hands to create something you never had before. It’s a hobby that lends itself to boundless creativity, lacking many of the formulaic boundaries that make other hobbies boring. Yes, there is chemistry involved… but to refuse the experimentation that comes with diverging from formal recipes is to rob yourself of most of the excitement of the experience.
With this excitement comes a result that cannot be replicated by most other hobbies. Cooking is unique in that both the process and the product of a session offer two different experiences; two different pathways to enjoying the hobby. Visual arts cannot offer this, as the finished product is one you’ve seen a thousand times before it’s finished. Sports cannot compare in that you can only enjoy the product of your hard work if recorded — and even then, it lacks the novelty of an entirely new experience. You are simply reliving the moments of the game. With cooking, creating your dish offers an entirely different experience from consuming it. When doing it with others, the pleasure of these experiences can make for some of your most memorable times in college, as it has for me.
Admittedly, this is as much of an argument for picking up the hobby of cooking as it is a guide for how you can live without a meal plan. With no meal plan, you’re encouraged to learn how to cook, discover plenty of different diets, and develop a series of valuable skills for later adulthood. I encourage you all to at least try living one semester without a meal plan — explore the variety of foods that exist outside of Cornell’s dining halls, and develop some impressive skills in the process.
Enrolling in Cornell during the pandemic afforded me the privilege of not having to live on-campus when I arrived in Ithaca. Coming from a not-so-wealthy family, I was ecstatic that I did not have to buy a meal plan. I was hyper-focused on maximizing my budget, and probably irrationally conscious of each and every purchase I made. So, it did not take long until I figured out a way to navigate off-campus living in the most financially optimized way that worked for me. Of course, I’ve had to make this guide more general to apply to most people.
Buy from Anabel’s Grocery’s.
No, they have not sponsored me. Anabel’s is an amazing store for anyone looking for low-cost ingredients that are located on-campus. One of the most discouraging things about not having a meal plan is the time and effort it takes to shop for your goods. Because Anabel’s is located right at Anabel Taylor Hall, by the 30 bus stop, it is a highly accessible spot for shopping. The only drawback to the stores is that they lack the massive amount of variety that supermarkets have, so you may have to finish your shopping elsewhere or have it delivered. However, they have enough that I have spent weeks without going to a supermarket because the meals that I planned only need the ingredients sold at Anabel’s.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but I cannot stress enough how useful it is to prepare your meals for the week. Having to prepare each of your meals the day of will always bite you in the back when you have important homework due and have to sacrifice time to not starve. The biggest downside to not having a meal plan is the time commitment, so you will have to counterbalance that in any way you can. Preparing at least one meal for each day of the week in bulk will save you hours. Finally, there are plenty of incredibly useful and healthy meal-prep recipes online that will prove invaluable when you’re in a crunch. People may think of meal prepping as just rice and chicken, but there is an infinite variety of delicious foods that you can experiment with.
Mooch off your friends who have meal plans.
Honestly, it’s just a smart thing to do, so there’s no need to judge me! In all seriousness, it’s too easy to become that person who constantly asks their friends to hang out, only for their guest swipes. Don’t be that person. If they offer, you can gladly accept. It must always be a humbling experience when someone provides you with a free meal, so you should do what you can to make it up to him or her.
Eat twice a day.
This is likely the hardest part of the guide for most people because it would require breaking out of a life-long habit. Personally, with having classes during lunchtime hours, I just naturally fell into the habit of eating twice a day. A tip that might help make the process easier is eating a high-protein diet. Eating more protein has been found to sustain people from hunger longer than other macronutrients, allowing them to lose more weight in the process. With how cheap the packs of chicken are in Wegman’s, there really is no excuse not to try this out. I don’t have experience with a less-than-omnivorous diet, so… to my vegetarian and vegan friends: good luck. Please email me some alternatives.
My cooking journey has been immensely fulfilling, and I believe many of you would benefit from incentivizing yourself to give it a try by opting out of a meal plan when you can. You’ll save money, learn to be more self-sufficient and will likely develop a healthier lifestyle. I wish you the best.
Daniel Obaseki is a fourth year student in the College of Arts and Sciences. His fortnightly column Beyond Discourse focuses on politics, culture and student life at Cornell. He can be reached at [email protected].
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