A staple of the first-year experience here at Duke is dining at the beloved freshman dining hall, Marketplace. The first-year meal plan is designed so that our transition from enjoying meals at home to eating at Duke is guided by an access to a variety of meals from several buffets and the ability to dine exclusively with the freshmen community. This wholesome and communal experience shifts drastically sophomore year, when almost all our meals come from West Union and are eaten in a to-go container in the middle of our 10:05 physics lecture. Unfortunately, alternatives to West Union are inaccessible to most students who do not have access to pots and pans in their dorms. Those who do possess pots and pans face a limited assortment of fresh produce from the vendors on campus. There are tangible health and lifestyle issues that stem from the eating habits that the dining plan currently encourages. Luckily, there are also tangible solutions and long-term benefits.
Although living on campus affords us access to over 35 different venues, many students on campus have dietary restrictions and allergies that greatly limit their choices. Other students are confined to the standard dining plan due to their financial aid and thus must sacrifice their personal tastes for the most economic and least expensive meals. A small salad may be the healthier option but a less expensive and heartier meal will always be the choice of a student who is limited to a daily quota of 25 food points. While economic decision making remains a useful life-skill for adulthood, sacrificing our physical health because of financial circumstances should not be our greatest concern during our time at Duke.
Moreover, our dining experience at Duke does not only impact us physically. Most students on the dining plan are basically eating out for two meals on a daily basis while the average American eats out only about four meals a week. We are accustomed to glancing at a menu and swiping our Duke cards, instead of grocery shopping and taking the time to prepare our meals. The fast-paced lifestyle at Duke encourages and even demands this out of us. However, when we graduate and are no longer bound by a meal plan, most of us will need to become acquainted with the realities of cooking and preparing our meals at home.
The autonomy to eat what we can and want to eat at an affordable price can be granted to us by simply cooking in our dorms. As an alternative to the current dining plan, every dorm could provide an allotment of basic cookware and seasonings, which would be supplied by RAs to reduce theft and misplacement. The three main convenience stores on campus should provide a larger array of fresh produce, and Duke should encourage and foster more cooking and communal eating within West Campus dorms throughout the semester. At a university as diverse as this one, food has the power to bring people closer together, and the act of preparing food in a domestic setting is a grounding and centering one. Duke is our home, and what we eat is just as important as what we study. Please give us pots and pans.
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