Rachel Warren’s introduction to food independence was marked by ever-changing food plates thanks to UF’s meal plan. The experience was a terrifying proposition for the 19-year-old, who broke new ground this year.
Raised by a Korean mother, Warren grew up eating foods flavored with red pepper and gochujang, a red chili paste that’s widely used in Korean soups and seafood dishes.
“Switching to a diet that doesn’t contain any spices was very different for me,” she said. “I will definitely love to come back for the summer and eat Korean with my mom and get the spice back into my life.”
The change wasn’t all bad for Warren, however, who enjoyed the accessibility of buffet-style dining centers within walking distance of her Rawlings Hall dorm.
She joins the hundreds of hungry college students who nonstop line campus cafes. After a full day of lectures and textbook chapters, they’ve been served a hearty dinner of grilled chicken, smoked pit ham, mixed vegetables and pasta with tomato sauce and fresh basil on hard plastic plates.
Image has now become the new norm for many, left at the mercy of self-sufficiency as they enter university life.
“It’s very convenient to meet people I know and have lunch with a mate without really planning it,” Warren said.
The psychology student appreciated being introduced to new types of foods that she has grown to love, such as rotisserie chicken.
In the fall of 2022, she’s transitioning to a declining balance and intends to spend more time preparing many pasta salads, egg salads, and other childhood favorites. However, having the dining rooms just around the corner will be an easy alternative for Warren when she runs out of ingredients.
Committing to this less inclusive meal plan will mark a milestone for the newcomer. When Warren realizes it’s time to teach herself how to cook, she begins to enter the adult realm.
Planning meals while living at UF was an even more daunting task for Shayna Schulman, a 22-year-old political scientist. As the first in her family to attend college, she adapted to a new way of eating all by herself.
After a friend advised her against the campus meal plan prior to her arrival on campus, Schulman became her own personal chef.
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The hardest transition for Schulman was enjoying the same pasta, pizza, and sandwich plates every week to avoid overspending and waste.
“When I was home with my family we would have something different every night, but when I got to college I would make something and have it for the next three to four days.”
Schulman’s cooking efforts were further complicated by her distance from her ingredients. She wandered nearly ten blocks from Yulee Hall to Publix on Northwest 13th Street to shop for her signature cold cuts, frozen meatballs, and pasta sauces.
The transition to off-campus life has alleviated these obstacles. The resources at Schulman’s apartment allowed her to cook more meals for herself.
“I now have a full fridge with my roommate, so I have space to keep things longer than the mini-fridge you can have in your dorm,” she said. “Now that I have a full-size kitchen, I can look up recipes and make funnier or more complicated things.”
Inspired by her roommates and social media, Schulman expanded her tastes beyond the traditional American meatloaf and chicken dishes her family made as a child. She even recreated Instagram influencer Kirra Graham’s “Moroccan Glow Bowl,” a Moroccan-inspired concoction of chickpeas, eggplant, tomatoes, couscous and spices like cumin and turmeric.
Nadia Kabbej, Schulman’s roommate, who is also of Moroccan background, shared an experience similar to Schulman’s in her freshman year.
The 22-year-old applied physiology and kinesiology senior grew up with her parents cooking meats and roasting vegetables before moving to Simpson Hall in the fall of 2018. She quickly learned that eating without a meal plan would take a lot more effort.
Staying true to her Moroccan heritage, Kabbej sought to replicate the main kitchen dinners she prepared with her father. However, their dormitory deprived them of the space to store the pots, pans and meat necessary to embellish these Middle Eastern dishes just like at home.
Where she was missing the traditional lamb in her homemade couscous dishes, she turned to salmon and other meats she could find at local food markets.
Like her roommate, access to more grocery stores and kitchen appliances allowed Kabbej to reveal previously unknown recipes.
“I feel like I’ve started incorporating different flavors and spices into my meals,” she said. “I started going to the Asian market and getting some ingredients there.”
Greek moussaka, Chinese dumplings, Japanese miso soup and Middle Eastern harissa feature on Kabbej’s kitchen counter as she develops the culinary skills she needs for life after college.
“I think a lot of people have a misconception when they think that cooking on your own is more difficult or more time-consuming,” she said. “Actually, if you just take an hour or two on a Sunday and plan out what you’re doing… it’s worth it to me.”
Contact Jared Teitel @email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jaredteitel.
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