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random musings of a crazy cat lady

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Reflections on Free Food

A few days ago I scored free pizza at lunch and a seminar bagel which turned into a large part of my dinner. It made me a lot happier than one would expect, me being a 42 year old biddy with a good salary.
A fondness for free food is definitely a grad school thing. I don't remember being too into it when I was an undergrad, thanks to the all you can eat dorm food and midnight Domino's orders, but I picked up the habit as a grad student, as did most of my classmates. Chemistry departments know how to play on this fondness. Want to get the grad students to attend something? Offer free food. Want to get more food for your seminar budget? Give the students a budget and have them bring the seminar refreshments when their group is hosting. You get the idea.
People don't truly lose their fondness for it when they graduate. My former company had a cafeteria, which supplied lunch and bagels/bread/milk/coffee/soda/ice cream. The cafeteria was a huge selling point for potential employees, especially those who had once been grad students. However, the fact that food was always available made me less opportunistic.
When I got to Cornell I was reinducted into the cult of free food. I had thought that the fact that I am old and diet conscious would make me less into it. I hadn't reckoned with the combined effects of the Ithaca hills and winter and a busy schedule. Within a few weeks I was as into it as I was in grad school. Eventually I realized that a lot of the appeal is not that it's free but that I am working a lot, my metabolism has increased, and it saves time. The $1 physics stockroom bagels and even the cafe in the new building have a similar appeal.
The typical female grad students are pretty similar to what I am used to. The guys are another matter. Some of them take it to a whole new level than I ever witnessed at MIT. I'm not quite sure why - the students do have more discretionary income here, and work somewhat less on average, so I suspect it's the hills and the weather.
A few weeks ago there was an event for the prospective students. The department ordered way too much food and there was a ton of it left over. Pizza, bagels, lasagne, cookies, chicken parmesan, etc. As soon people found out about it, they told everyone else. (It's part of the free food culture to spread the word. My friend Krissy used to get on the phone and call the other groups whenever there was a free food sighting in her building. Fast forward 20 years, and now the students have jokingly suggested setting up a free food twitter account.) Anyway, at first I wasn't going to take free food from the mouths of hungry grad students, but they said there was a ton so I got myself some pizza for lunch and a bagel, which ended up being breakfast a few days later. Some of the guys carted back tons of lasagne, etc, and even a pail full of the chicken parmesan got stashed in the fridge, where they were still working on it more than a week later. Eeew.

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