Reflections from a free food junkie

A recent alum’s quarter spent living off of free food events on campus proved nourishing in more ways than one.

By Lisa Fan

Having just finished reading The Hunger Games trilogy, where the characters living in the fictional world of Panem struggle to fend off starvation, I can’t help but think about how university campuses are often an oasis for free food. A couple of years ago, I remember one student’s experiment to only live off of free food on campus for one whole week. Take it one step further, and that’s me: living off of free food for an entire quarter. What started as frequenting such events once in a while soon became the norm. Of course, it is no secret that the campus offers a flowing stream of free food events for nearly every day of the week, but I admit that even I was surprised at its abundance. People like free food just about as much as free money, and all manner of events therefore use it as a major draw. And from the free food listhost to the bulletin boards around campus to Facebook, it’s easy to see that.

I’ve found nourishment in just about every corner of campus this spring—the business school, the law school, the medical center, RSO study breaks and information sessions. Days without a free food event became an anomaly. I remember a triple Chipotle spree one week that even made me lose my appetite for my favorite burritos; the time when my friends and I hopped from one event to another, getting a taste of UChicago; and of course that time when I was served a gourmet three-course meal in the comfort of my cubicle office at International House, which just so happens to be a central nourishment hub where, in the three years I’ve worked there, I’ve watched residents fill their Tupperware with leftover food from countless lectures. Yes, there’s certainly been no shortage of Domino’s, Pizza Capri, and those ubiquitous box lunches.

But after all this, one might wonder why I’ve taken on frequenting free food events at UChicago this past spring to the extent that I did. I’ll admit that at times I have felt gluttonous, occasionally even going back for seconds before even chowing down my firsts. It’s not just that I refuse to eat at the dining halls again, or that I don’t want to purchase food, or even that I find it a hassle to cook. What I did come to realize, however, is that I genuinely find some pleasure and enjoyment in going to these events beyond just the sustenance they provide.

Having graduated from the College one quarter early in March, I decided to stay in Hyde Park to continue to work at International House while enjoying a break between school and starting my job in the summer—a kind of spring fling, if you will. For the first time since I came to this school, I no longer lived in Snell-Hitchcock, no longer had a meal plan that confined me to eating at Bartlett every day. When I was a student, I clearly recall my friends who weren’t on a meal plan attending free food events left and right while I was content with my unlimited fare. But going to free food events takes time, time I never had when I was a student; looking back, I’d been literally starved of events outside of school when I was busy with classes and activities.

During these past couple of months, though, I’ve had the chance to attend lectures on the impact of social media on sexual assault, the role game theory plays in the mating behaviors of bird species, and everything else in between. Not only did they feed me, but, surprisingly, many of them also interested me.

Will I retain the details of what I learned a year from now? Probably not. Yet, from lectures on politics to more esoteric discussions, these events have given me quick snapshots of topics to which I would otherwise not have given much thought. And I appreciate that they at least captured my awareness and consideration, even if only temporarily.

I’ve had a lot of fun perfecting the science of procuring free food at the University of Chicago these past months. But I know it’s something I enjoyed only because I know it is temporary—something I would have found burdensome as a student, and something I would not have done for much longer, lest it truly compromise my health in the name of free food. All in all, I’ve truly enjoyed the whirlwind of events upon events that I’ve seen and heard this spring. They gave me satisfaction beyond just a full stomach.

Lisa Fan is a graduate of the College in the class of 2012.