A Matter of Choice

Dormitory Kitchens Encourage Personal Responsibility

MIT stands among very few institutions in the nation regarding how it prepares its students for their future. A solid, practical education ensures that we can adapt and take care of ourselves after we graduate from college. Personally, I assume that such preparation includes the skills necessary for daily sustenance.

As adults, we will have to make our own choices about what foods to purchase and how to cook them—even a little proficiency in the kitchen goes a long way in today’s world. On top of that, self-prepared food often turns out to be healthier and cheaper than purchased meals. It allows students the choice and flexibility to cater their diets to their unique bodies. Why, then, has the Institute decided to embark on its own vision to expand dining at the undergraduate level and overlooked the obvious benefits of cooking?

Just to be clear, I am someone who expected to be dining out all the time when I arrived at MIT. While I had prepared small items at home, I never cooked three meals a day for myself. I was scared of the stove. More and more, though, I find myself making my meals in my Burton-Conner suite kitchen. Nothing fancy — I might make an omelette one day or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich the next.

However, I count myself among the lucky few undergraduates at MIT that have a stove, fridge, and cupboards just outside my door. Without these, I suspect I would be purchasing the majority of my meals every day.

Buying ingredients, by any logic comes out as cheaper than purchasing meals. A large egg might cost you 75 cents and make a good breakfast, while a banana might run a quarter and serve as a nutritious snack. Even an entire dinner should not run anything more than a few dollars for one person. Preparing a meal should not have to be an arduous task; the time commitment depends upon what you want to make.

Personally, I feel that I pay enough in tuition such that I’ll take a clear opportunity to save money if I don’t have to sacrifice anything significant for it. The caveat, of course, is that our most convenient location for grocery shopping — LaVerde’s — is atrociously overpriced. Apples and oranges will run you a buck a piece or more. We really can’t count on MIT to make it easy for us to buy reasonably-priced groceries.

Moreover, preparing food should not just run you fewer dollars, but fewer calories. The selection at a typical grocery store is typically less fattening, than Lobdell or the dining halls, and often more nutritious. Undeniably, you can purchase healthy prepared meals on campus, but the control you have over how those meals are prepared is limited. Each individual has different dietary needs, and cafeteria dining will inevitably not meet those needs.

Whether you want to gain or lose weight, build muscle mass or lower your carbohydrate intake, the selection at a typical grocery store can far better help you meet your dietary needs than the cafeteria food at Baker, Next, McCormick, or Simmons.

The argument that managing your own food allows you to overeat or only consume junk defies the very purpose and spirit of college life; we have to be entrusted with the same kind of personal responsibility that we will have to face in the real world. In any case, I doubt anyone would classify cafeteria food as healthy. We students no longer live in a world in we should expect to be served and cooked every meal.

As far as I can tell, cooking does not affect you socially. Not only are there people around to eat with me if I cook for myself, but I can actually grow closer to people by cooking with them. In any case, I don’t see the difference if someone can just take food from the cafeteria and head back to a room to eat in solitude. Moreover, I eat out at least two or three times a week. Eating out feels better when you and your friends can make the choice to order a particular kind of food any day of the week from any restaurant you choose.

MIT needs to break away from its trend toward house dining. Forced dining plans — the ones that charge you $300 and require eating five days a week at the same cafeteria — are no way to encourage MIT students to prepare for the real world. These cafeterias are only practical for dinner and, despite efforts to increase their choice and serve vegetarian, don’t offer students the freedom to really make their own dietary decisions like they will when they leave college.

Cafeteria food cannot adequately serve the growing number of vegans, who need kitchens if they wish to maintain their dietary choices. Forcing students into what is typically an economic loss and restricting their options does not seem like the MIT way to me.

Neither, incidentally, does going against the wishes of the Phoenix group and tearing the kitchens out of Ashdown or arbitrarily overturning the choice of a majority of Simmons Hall residents against buffet style dining. Many halls, with the notable exceptions of East Campus and Burton-Conner, have inconvenient or inadequate cooking facilities. LaVerde’s overcharges students for necessities, and is too far from East Campus anyway.

MIT needs to remember its roots and offer its students the healthier, more practical option of cooking. Yes, we can choose not to cook our own food, but I simply would like to see students given more of an option than the current trend suggests they will have.

We are not an Ivy League school nor should we start acting like one — mens et manus implies we should at least offer students the chance to develop a practical, healthy, and cheap skill in cooking.

Karan Sagar is a member of the Class of 2012 that knows how to crack an egg or two.