Confessions of a College Student Who Can’t Cook

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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.

Junior English major at the University of Michigan, active member of Michigan Daily Editorial Board. Can most likely be found running through the Arb, studying in the law library, eating a sandwich or meandering through bookstores. Enjoys cocoa cappuccinos and listening to Earth, Wind & Fire.

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