Freshmen adjust to on-campus food options, social scene in dining halls


Rebecca Shaid/Daily Senior Staffer

Foster-Walker Complex Dining Hall. The Plex West salad bar provides vegetarian options.

Joanna Hou, Reporter

As freshmen adjust to college and life at Northwestern, some have reported mixed experiences with on-campus dining options and socialization in the dining halls. 

Most underclassmen are on the Open Access meal plan, which gives them unlimited swipes at all five dining halls, five meal exchanges per week and 125 dining dollars.

Some, like Weinberg freshman Emma Kogan, are satisfied with the variety of foods. As a vegan, Kogan’s options have always been limited, but dining halls across campus provide vegan and vegetarian options.

She said NU Dining exceeded her expectations in every sense. 

“I always know I can go to the Rooted station, and I’ll have food there for me,” Kogan said. “There’s always a grain and a protein and then lots of vegetables which I love.” 

The dining halls also introduced Kogan to a host of new vegan foods, including vegan cupcakes. After going vegan, Kogan said she didn’t really eat cupcakes, but was amazed by how NU turned classic foods vegan.

Kogan said she plans to recreate some of her favorite dining hall vegan dishes when she visits home for Thanksgiving and Winter Break. 

“One day in Sargent (Dining Hall) they had these carrot cake cupcakes with tofu vegan icing, and you couldn’t even taste the tofu,” Kogan said. “I want to try making that and see if I can replicate it because it was so good.” 

SESP freshman Meena Sharma also said dining hall food exceeded her expectations. Sharma is vegetarian and dairy-free. While she said meals get repetitive at times, she appreciates the accommodations for those with dietary restrictions. 

However, with late-night classes and dance rehearsals, Sharma often can’t make it to the dining halls before they close. On many occasions, she’s had to rely on meal exchanges, which she said are disappointing. 

“I was hungry and I didn’t eat, so I went to Lisa’s (Cafe), and they were all out of their hummus sandwiches, so I couldn’t get anything,” Sharma said. “I ended up meal-exchanging fries.” 

Sharma has faced similar challenges at other meal exchange locations on campus. She can’t eat the quesadilla at Fran’s Cafe or burgers from Patty Squared, and thinks meal exchanges for those with dietary restrictions are inadequate. 

Both Sharma and Bienen freshman Lily Kern said dining halls present a social challenge. Eating alone in dining halls is a difficult experience, Kern said. 

“I really struggle eating by myself. I’ve only done it once or twice,” Kern said. “Usually, if I have to eat by myself, I’ll get a to-go box.” 

Dining, particularly during prime meal hours, is absolutely a social event, Kern said. She always tries to find a group to sit with. 

Sharma said she often changes her own eating schedule just so she can eat with friends. While she has accepted it won’t always be possible to eat with others, Sharma said she feels a stigma around eating alone. 

“I think it’s hard because people want to surround themselves with other people and one of the main ways (they socialize) at Northwestern is through eating collectively,” Sharma said. “But nobody should have to feel bad for having to eat alone.” 

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Twitter: @joannah_11

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