During orientation week, Princeton administrators emphasized the importance of a balanced lifestyle. They pressed the Class of 2021 to sleep seven hours a night, participate in extracurriculars, and seek out resources to manage stress. Many Princeton students struggle to balance the different facets of their lives, so this advice seemed well-meaning.
But, I lost faith in the variously-acronymed adults standing in front of me when I heard them advocate for healthy eating habits. I looked down at my phone — “Free cupcakes! Free boba! Free pizza!” my emails taunted. I looked back up and remembered my pre-frosh dream of eating healthy in college. The walls of Dillon Gym would have flashed in my mind, too, had I actually made it inside. It was in that moment that I realized I had adopted an unpopular, and possibly sacrilegious, opinion among college students: I dislike free food.
Don’t get me wrong — I go to the study breaks and club meetings and fill my paper plate to capacity. But, as I sit eating my third baked good of the afternoon, I realize how the Freshman Fifteen became a trope. It’s nearly impossible to resist the siren call of high-calorie, low-nutrition foods after walking on average seven miles a day and spending six hours in Firestone on my second day of classes. As I trudge back to my dorm after ascending from the stacks, my phone buzzes and I look down at another listserv email. “Hey guys!! Free [literally any food substance that isn’t salad] in [most convenient place for you to walk] at [time when you should be doing work]!” I basically have no choice.
Club participation creates another trap for those trying to practice healthy eating habits. To lure apathetic freshmen to their meetings, clubs often rely on free food — so, the snacks are purchased. I have walked into dozens of rooms laid out with chairs in a circle and the snack table in the middle, tempting me despite the fact that I ate dinner 20 minutes prior. How can I be an active member of the community and still stay healthy?
I appreciate the gesture, and free food taken on its own constitutes a major part of my utopia. But the obstacle course of snacks thrown at you from every group, organization, and leader on campus makes attempting to stay in decent shape near impossible. I can’t resist when it’s offered, but I feel guilty when I turn it down, ashamed of wasting the opportunity.
Free food is also a social vehicle, which makes it even harder to resist. On one occasion, my roommates pleaded with me to join them on a trip to Studio ’34 for a study break. “It’s free!” they insisted. When that ploy to push me into joining them failed, my roommates turned to a more social argument. “It’s roommate bonding!” they told me. They ended up heading to the study break without me, but I felt as though I had violated a sacred code — or worse, the roommate contract.
The omnipresence of free food, and the pressing obligation I feel to take advantage of it, has cast a pall over my first weeks at Princeton. How am I supposed to address this Herculean task? I am either doomed to a lonely life as a social outcast, banned from club meetings and friend outings alike, or I will have to be cut out of my dorm by Public Safety at the end of the semester. The free food epidemic at Princeton needs to be addressed. There must be a better way. However, my ability to propose a solution to this glaring problem is currently limited by the fact that there is a donut food truck on Prospect Avenue, and everyone’s going.
Madeleine Marr is first-year student from Newtown Square, Pa. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.