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The prospect of independent life can certainly be daunting. That was, at least to some degree, true for me. After having been on the required underclassman meal plan, I decided to join an eating club for my junior year. When I arrived in September for my last year at Princeton, I was returning an independent. What I have found so far has been a campus with so much more to offer and a living experience that gives me much more control over my eating options.

The most obvious difference between this meal option and any of the other available ones is what I have found to be the wonderful exploratory power it affords you. This is not an ability unique to independents — certainly, anyone can go explore outside of the Orange Bubble. But given the nature of the independent life, it becomes not only a common occurrence — exploration becomes vital.

For some independents, this means exploring the options available on Nassau and beyond. The quality and diversity of the food available to us just outside of campus is incredible. You can find Mexican food at Taste of Mexico, Japanese food at Tomo Sushi, Middle Eastern food at Mamoun’s and certainly traditional American fare. For others, exploration could also take the form of looking for food to cook for yourself. From the Saturday and Sunday Shoppers, to the Princeton FreeB, to the Farmer’s Market on Thursdays, we have many options should we choose to cook.

For others, still, exploration might mean something completely different. My point in writing this has little to do with telling you about all the different options available to you. I have only been an independent for about three weeks and there is so much more out there for me to discover. I simply want to suggest that being an independent is not only possible, it can be deeply enriching. Engaging with the community that exists outside the University can enhance your experience at the University, giving you a perspective that the eating clubs or dining halls simply cannot. In particular, this experience reveals that even as a student on Princeton’s campus, you are able to have control over your choices. It is through exposure to new experiences that an independent student gains this insight.

That being said, this eating option might not be for everyone. It is certainly a big change and the challenges we often hear about are present. But the independence gained from both the structures that shape most of our eating experiences and even the campus itself is, I think, liberating in an important way. Students with no meal plan depend less on these structures than students who do have a meal plan. This reduced dependence means that we gain a degree of control over when, where, and what to eat that the other eating options simply cannot afford you. Moreover, as already suggested, the vital exploration teaches you about that control and it becomes valuable itself.

Now, no meal option that currently exists is going to give a student full control and choosing one option is going to mean sacrificing the control that comes with another. I can no longer walk to the club I was a member of entirely freely. In fact, eating in any club becomes more difficult, as I can no longer use the meal exchange platform. I am also limited to two swipes a week in the dining halls, unless I can convince a friend to use one of their guest swipes to get me in. This sort of control, I concede, is lost. But all things considered, the control I have gained over the consumption of my food — a central part of our daily lives — has been worth it all. Convinced? Let’s grab a meal.

Sebastian Quiroz is a senior from Deltona, FL. He can be reached at squiroz@princeton.edu.

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