Editor's note appended
Every year, Princeton students shell out four thousand dollars for a meal plan that includes mushy tomatoes, watery pasta and daily helpings of beef stroganoff. What if we told you that you could eat like a king at Princeton without spending a dime? I, Sam Stewart-Halevy — along with two friends, George Lace and Jerry Moxley — have proven that it is possible to survive for a week while eating only free food at this fine institution.
On a Monday at precisely midnight, we began a bold journey into the world of free food. Our quest was simple: could we live off only free food for one week? Our rules were strict: no buying food, no begging for food and no stealing food. And, though our bellies may have been skeptical, our resolve was iron-strong.
On our first day, a Tuesday, George and I went to the Women's Center for a round table discussion entitled, "Look Who's Talking: Gender and Class Participation." As we were loading up on free food, Amada Sandoval, the director of the Women's Center, came out and asked us what we were doing. "Are you planning on joining us?" she asked. "Of course," we replied, nodding vigorously. "We love ... gender and class participation."
The event proved to be interesting, and I actually made a comment to legitimize our presence. Then something very strange happened. A student burst into the room with a sandwich in his mouth and another in his pocket. He had been caught outside taking all of the leftover food so, like us, he had to stay for the rest of the discussion. However, instead of sitting down and pretending to take notes, he rushed over to a table with fruit salad and cookies and continued eating. Everyone seemed uncomfortable at this unabashed display of piggishness, but they continued talking as he chowed down. You had to hand it to him — he knew what he wanted and nothing was going to stop him from getting it. As I pondered the situation, I realized that in order to survive the week, I would have to adopt this student's renegade persona — become, essentially, a free food vigilante.
Wednesday was an excellent day for free food. Though it took a great deal of time, I managed to eat five times over the course of the day. On Thursday afternoon we were faced with a tough dinner decision. We could go to "Microfinance in the Arab World," "Paul Lansky's Evolution of an Idea," "Norvin Richards: Minimalist Linguist," "Interview Workshop Session for the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers" or "The WTO and Trade Liberalization." The last event seemed most promising because it guaranteed Indian food in its description. Furthermore, it was located in "Robertson Bowl 1" and, as we all know, food comes in bowls.
It took almost a half an hour of wandering around the Robertson building to finally find said bowl. When we got there, we were dismayed to find that not only was the Robertson Bowl a lecture hall and not a bowl of food, but also, the promised Indian dinner was nowhere to be found. Instead, there were only six other people in the lecture hall and they were all taking a class taught by the lecturer. After the dull and incomprehensible lecture, the students each posed informed questions to the professor. Then, they all turned to face us expectantly. We did our best to avoid making eye contact: Jerry mumbled something, I pretended to take notes, and George studied for his midterm. Finally, we heard some words we could understand. A student entered the Bowl and proclaimed "Indian food is here," thereby saving us from this awkward predicament.
Friday was a breeze, as George and I went to Free Food Friday at the Architecture Building and ate pizza with the grad students. Lunch was at the Pi Day pie-eating contest, where we ran into the student from the Women's Center event again. I interviewed him briefly after the contest and he vehemently denied being a free food scavenger. "I come to these events to get benefits from them, not just for the food," he said. When asked whether he thought it would be possible to live off free food at Princeton, he replied, "I wouldn't know anything about that. I have a meal plan." That night, we all ate dinner together at The Daily Princetonian promotions party. I did not know it then, but this would be the last real meal I would eat until Monday.
Transitioning from Friday to Saturday was like walking out of a grocery store and into a desert. Suddenly, the bounty of free food was gone and there were no events to go to. As I starved through the day, eating half a cherry pie left over from the pie-eating contest and some Pringles that a random girl had given me as a present for Purim, I began to doubt whether I would make it. When it came time for dinner, I realized that I would have to do something drastic to get food in my belly.
The backup plan — free food samples from Wild Oats — would have to make do. But when I reached the grocery store, I found no such free samples. The cashier told me that if I went the Whole Foods on Route 1, I would find what I was looking for. "Sure," I said in my most sarcastic tone. "I'll just hop into my imaginary car and drive all the way to Whole Foods for some tiny squares of rustic focaccia."
On the verge of giving up and buying a sandwich at Panera, I had an epiphany. I found God. Or, to be more specific, free food provided by people who believe in God. Walking across campus, I noticed a large congregation in front of the chapel. As I was debating whether to attend the service or head straight to the reception in Murray Dodge, a friend of mine caught me standing on the chapel steps.
"What are you doing?" he asked. "I didn't know you were religious." "Don't worry," I said, "I'm just here for the food." For some strange reason, this was a big no-no. So, with some prodding from my friend, I decided that it would be more ethical to sit through the service. Bad decision. The ceremony went on and on, culminating in the induction of new members into the church. Did you know that if you want to become a Catholic you have to profess all that the church believes in and reject Satan? Finally, I couldn't take it any longer, so I left for Murray Dodge, where I grabbed some pretzels and dashed off.
On Sunday, the events started to pick back up again and I was saved by a timely package of food from my loving parents. Monday went smoothly as well, and as the minutes ticked down to midnight we eagerly anticipated the completion of the week. We had begun our adventure as curious rookies on the free food circuit and ended as wizened veterans. Most importantly, we had proven what we set out to prove — that it is possible to live solely off free food at Princeton.
Sam Stewart-Halevy conducted his free food experiment last spring.Editor's note
This article has been modified from its original version.