For some students, food is about more than simple nutrition. Cooking can mean finding connection to their families or even tailoring meals to their own dietary preferences.
Family based cooking
If junior Blair Ballard had six hours to spare, she said would use them to make her favorite dish, tamales, for her and her roommates. Ballard said she loves spicy food, so she marinates the beef in traditional chili seasoning for a few hours before she makes the tamales. Rather than use six hours of her limited time, Ballard settles for another favorite recipe — white chicken enchiladas, requiring less than two hours of preparation, made from scratch and perfected by her grandmother.
Students like Ballard use cooking as a way to remind them of family while bringing them close to friends at their homes away from home.
Ballard said she began cooking when she was about 10-years-old, after watching her Hispanic mother prepare traditional Mexican food. After Ballard expressed her interest in cooking, her mother taught her and her three brothers cooking basics. Ballard and her brothers soon took control of meal preparation, but she said the family still remained the main focus.
“I’m really close with my parents and my brothers,” Ballard said. “Every Sunday, no matter what, everyone spent almost the entire afternoon in the kitchen, and I feel that’s where I really got to know my [family].”
Now, when Ballard prepares family recipes like the white chicken enchiladas in her apartment off-campus, she said it’s a reminder of her home and family.
Freshman Norma Castro also likes to cook Hispanic food and said cooking has helped her become closer to friends by bringing them together for Sunday dinners.
Castro said her mother taught her to cook when she was 16-years-old, but without using measurements and instead relying on her mother’s kitchen experience. Castro’s newfound cooking skills were useful the days when she arrived at home earlier than her mother and needed to prepare dinner for her and brothers.
She and her friends in Dobson Hall frequently gather during Sunday evenings for a family dinner. Castro said she usually prepares food like taquitos or guacamole — meals that are simple to prepare, yet delicious and filling. Keeping with simplicity, Mexican rice is a staple in Castro’s diet. Castro said it is one her favorite dishes her mother makes. It’s easy to make on campus because it requires only a few ingredients like whole tomatoes and onions.
Vegetarian and vegan cooking
With just a block of tofu, junior Brittany Newton’s meal options seem limitless. When cooked, the soft, white hunk of protein-packed processed soy absorbs the flavor of what it is cooked in.
“You’re only as limited as your spices,” Newton said.
Newton hasn’t eaten meat in nearly 10 years. She is not frail and malnourished as some might expect. Some vegetarians and vegans, like Newton, maintain healthy diets by preparing their own meals and finding ways to include protein into their diets.
Newton became a vegetarian because of a medical condition that makes breaking down certain proteins nearly impossible for her. Originally, she only experienced problems with red meat, but they soon extended to poultry and fish, and this led her to give up meat altogether, she said. Three years ago, dairy products and eggs began causing problems, too, so Newton became a vegan and now does not eat any animal products.
About once a week, Newton said she uses her residence halls’ kitchens to prepare a vegan meal. She said her most often cooked meals are Asian and Mexican dishes, because it is easy to substitute meat with tofu in the recipe. Stir-fry has become a staple of Newton’s diet because of the short preparation time and the variety of flavors she can add. Newton said she usually spends about 15 minutes preparing her dishes — boiling water and waiting for the rice or noodles to soften — and she can feed her friends if they want to try it.
Junior Danielle Meinhardt began the academic year as vegetarian, but recently has been phasing into veganism. Ethical questions propelled her to research the lifestyle. She found environmental, health and political reasons to become a vegetarian as well. Meinhardt said she sees veganism as a further extension of those beliefs. Like Newton, pasta and tofu are her most frequently cooked meals because of the protein and carbohydrates they provide, she said. Meinhardt’s favorite dish is a black bean sweet potato taco.
“I know it sounds disgusting,” she said. “But it’s really good!”
The black beans remind her of a regular taco, she said, but the sweet potatoes add an exotic flavor that can’t be beat.