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COLUMN

Dine In, Dine Out, Dine Often

Veena Thomas

Returning to school, it was a shock that I would have to endure three more years of cafeteria food. I didn’t think I really had other options. After all, the dining halls were conveniently located, and it didn’t take much time and effort to eat in them.

I was a little wary of the system last year. I typically ordered the “meal deal:” an entree, three sides, and a fountain drink for $6.50. It was second semester before I realized that I could never finish that much food.

I also decided to avoid soda. Instead, I would order the entree, one or two sides, and a bottle of iced tea. Surprisingly, this often ended up being more expensive than the meal deal. I couldn’t believe I would be spending eight dollars on dinner in a cafeteria.

But we all know the power of the MIT card. It’s a commonly held, though false, belief that money spent on the card doesn’t actually count. No one ever actually sees it and your parents get the bill. Money spent on the card hurts far less than money coming from your wallet.

The first time I ate at a dining hall this year, I was suddenly reminded that I had forgotten to put money on my MIT account. Out came eight dollars from my wallet. Ouch. Eight dollars? What was I thinking? The amount and quality of food did not justify the price.

Then it occurred to me... I didn’t have to eat in the dining halls. I realized how great our pay-as-you-go system is. We don’t have to eat on campus if we don’t want to, and we are free to find other options without worrying about wasting money.

The Tech ran an article a few weeks ago about dining options [“Variety of Food Options Available for Students,” August 31]. I always knew that other options existed, but somehow I didn’t really believe that they applied to me. When everyone that you know eats in the dining halls, you do too. But for the past few weeks, I’ve broken free of that and found other means of eating.

The food trucks on campus are an extremely cheap, delicious, and easy way of eating, especially for lunch. Last year I was hesitant to try them, since I had never heard of food trucks before and I wasn’t sure about the quality of the food.

But once I did try them, I was astounded by how great they were. At the Goosebeary’s truck, I could get a whole plate of Chinese food for three dollars, the same amount which elsewhere could cost me double of that.

The falafel truck on Mass. Ave. has an infinitely better falafel than the ones Walker had last year, and I love the truck’s baba ganouj sandwiches, which are healthy and a steal at $2.

Cooking is another money-saving option, one that I wish I had seriously considered sooner. I had always thought that cooking would be an elaborate, time-consuming process that I would have to repeat every night, leaving me no time to study. But it doesn’t have to be like that at all. You don’t need to be Martha Stewart to cook for yourself. Grocery stores sell Rice-a-Roni and other rice or pasta mixes in a box that hardly cost anything; you can boil them even as you are doing something else. There’s no need to wait around.

You will almost certainly have leftovers, eliminating the need to cook for a few days.

And for people willing to undertake advanced cooking, there’s Star Market. The only problem with Star can be carrying groceries home. However, Homeruns is a service that will deliver your grocery order for free with a $60 minimum offer, which is easier to make with a group. (There are other, similar delivery services too.)

Don’t fall into the same mindset that I did, where I would rather have spent more money on the MIT Card than paid with real money. This is the mindset perpetuated by MIT students. But, believe it or not, that is still real money you’re spending. Not satisfied by your dining hall experience? Do something about it. Send a message to MIT that you do not need to succumb to the Aramark monopoly. You have a right to be happy, and happiness does not include frowning over your lunch break at the overpriced slop that is supposed to be macaroni and cheese. You do have a choice.