Switching schools halfway through my junior year? I got this. Making friends? No problem. Tougher coursework? Try me. The terrifying question that kept running through my mind when I transferred from Albion College to the University of Michigan wasn’t anything like the ones that came up during orientation. It was, “How the hell am I going to feed myself?” I could no longer live in a residence hall devouring every pizza that crossed my path, but instead I would be thrust into the real world of making my own food in my own home. Home-economics in high school didn’t prepare me for this, and I felt at a loss for where to even start.
At Albion College, I had the luxury of not worrying where I’d receive my next meal or if it had the mom-approved balance of fruits and veggies. The most loved staff member named Mary swiped me into food-heaven (a.k.a the dining hall) every morning. The dining hall server, Sheryl, served me up an omelet at 8:45 a.m. and a panini at 12:35 p.m. I could make my PB&J’s without worrying about the expiration date of the bread. I could eat soup without thinking twice about where to get a bowl or spoon. I could grab a glass of ice-cold milk without contemplating the possibility that it might be sour.
As much as I loved the dining hall, I so wanted to be that sophisticated person who said things like “this needs just a dash of oregano,” or “can I offer you some brie?” Unfortunately, I’m not particularly gifted in the cuisine area. My dear mother cooked dinner for my siblings and I every night up until the day that I left for college. Almost everyone at my small liberal arts school lived in a dorm and ate at the dining hall until their senior year. I got used to the unlimited meal-swipe life and didn’t anticipate cooking for myself for a while; however, transferring to the University of Michigan quickly woke me up from that food coma.
I moved into a house with nine other girls and two kitchens. My over-confidence made me think that not only could I succeed in this new school, but I could also thrive in the kitchen. But really I could count on one hand the amount of things I knew how to make: fried eggs, cheese quesadillas, cereal, pasta and grilled cheese. My parents knew this and tried convincing me to get a meal plan. I refused. I didn’t want to be a junior eating in the dining hall alone whilst pretending to do important things on my phone. Though I’d be full and satisfied, I wasn’t ready to give up on the prospect of my culinary independence.
However, within the first week I felt so far of my league. Excited to bond with my new friends, I graciously accepted an invitation to dinner, thinking it would be pasta or chicken. But no, she made the best jambalaya I had ever tasted. As I watched her chop peppers and sausage, I thought about the Marie Callender’s chicken potpie I devoured the night before. How my fork split the thin breading and released gooey chicken broth onto my plate. How I hopefully took a bite only to discover it was half-frozen.
Desperate and hungry, I asked my parents to take me on a grocery-shopping trip ASAP. They came up that weekend and I tried my best to convince them that I just needed some better groceries and my cooking career would undoubtedly take off. The whole trip I was too stubborn to admit that I was failing at being an independent foodie. I managed to acclimate to such a drastic transition with relative ease in everything else. I was making friends, doing well in class and on track for a staff position at the Michigan Daily. But when I opened up my fridge, I failed at simply how to feed myself.
The next night I managed to make myself pesto chicken and tortellini with baby carrots. It took me about an hour and I was sweating with the possibility that I would give myself salmonella poisoning. When I bit into the extra dry, but edible chicken, I only felt somewhat satisfied.
I gave cooking an honest effort, but I wasn’t cut out for it every night. Soon enough I was back to my frozen dinners, Uncle Ben’s rice packets and granola bars. What really pushed me over the edge was the understanding that if I wanted to survive, I would have to encounter the slimy disgustingness that is raw chicken more times than I was comfortable. This is when I finally rethought my parent’s original proposition of a meal plan. A week later, I threw in the towel and group-texted my parents in defeat.
When I stepped into the East Quad dining hall for the first time, I nearly knocked a freshman over running to the salad bar. I topped my salad with every single vegetable offered, grabbed two plates of fruit, a bowl of pasta and cereal. I ate alone in pure happiness, alongside many others eating alone, too. Though jealous of my roommates’ ability to make delicious dishes at home, I stopped caring about my lack of skill. I’m an independent person that I can handle switching from a college of 1,400 students to a university of 40,000 students, but I suck at cooking. But hey, it doesn’t really matter that I’m one of the few juniors with a meal plan, at least I will never have to eat a Marie Callendar’s chicken potpie again.