Always Where the Food’s At
A grad student's guide to free food at MIT
Is there going to be food? If the answer is yes, I’m there.
On my lab group’s Slack messaging channel, the description below my name is always where the food’s @. As a student at MIT, you begin to notice that nearly all events provide free food.
The usual choices are bagels and pastries for breakfast, plus coffee—hot chocolate or cider in the winter. For lunch or dinner, it’s usually pizza. Sometimes we get fancy stuff like Italian or Indian food. So, you must be wondering, where am I? But more importantly, what food is there?
I am at a blog writing workshop, to share stories like these with people like you.
The food? Coffee and bagels, complete with sweet orange marmalade. Also, a bag of Wint-O-Green LifeSavers. (Bloggers must have bad breath)
Figure 1: I’m always where the food’s @.
I consider myself something of a food-finding expert, with a built-in food radar. A lot of the free food I’ve gotten on campus were from local favorites such as Café Luna, but I’ve also seen a lot of napkins from Rebecca’s Café around campus. There’s a mystery vendor I haven’t yet identified who seems to provide all the pastries on campus.
My Top 3 Tips
If you’re reading this, you must be wondering what are my top tips for getting free food at MIT. Here they are:
- Join the free-food mailing list—but don’t be surprised if you’re disappointed.
In my experience, the free-food mailing list can be a hit or a miss. When an event has a lot of leftover food, the organizers might send an email to subscribers so they know where the next treasures can be found. Sadly, I’m often too late, and most of the food is gone by the time I arrive. You can sign up here (MIT certificates required). As a backup, joining the mailing lists of other student groups and organizations on campus is sure to provide you access to free food.
- Go to everything advertised and walk quickly.
By attending advertised events, you’ll soon learn which groups have the best food. But there won’t be any left unless you walk quickly—no, unless you run. I’ve seen it happen. I might have done it myself. My department sends emails to the grad students when we have free but limited food in our common lounge. Within seconds of seeing the email’s subject line—Food in the Grad Lounge—I am speed walking, texting my friends, and watching people run down the hallways just for a slice of pizza. When I know there’s food at an event, I like to arrive early.
- Bring a friend and keep Tupperware on standby.
Sometimes I like to bring a friend so I don’t feel as ashamed of my frugalness. I even like to share pictures of my spoils on a Slack channel dedicated for the random, social, and funny.
You may laugh at this, but it’s the first thing I learned in grad school: keep clean food containers handy just in case there’s leftover food. And why not, right? It’s free lunch for tomorrow. There were multiple days in a row where I did not have to buy food or cook because of this.
For example, a typical week might look something like this:
Monday: “Taste of Mexico” by the Graduate Student Council
Tuesday: Italian cuisine at my lab’s group meeting
Wednesday: Holiday social somewhere on campus
You get the idea.
Figure 2: I didn’t pay for any of this
I’m 99.9% here for the food.
Okay, so I might be exaggerating. It might be closer to 75%. In reality, if there is an event happening on campus, and if I’m on the fence about attending or not, it will come down to the food. In some cases, I am more interested in the food than the actual event. But other times, the food can be a bonus on top of a talk by a Nobel Laureate (we get many of those at MIT).
Figure 3: Talks given by Nobel Laureates Phillip Sharp and Paul Modrich.
Battle of the Pizzas
During my first semester at MIT, free pizza was guaranteed to be in my diet at least once a week. If there was ever a time to get tired of a certain food, this was it. Bertucci’s, Otto’s, Area 4… so many pizza choices, but I had enough by the end of the semester. For the first time, I thought maybe there was such a thing as too much pizza.
What to Do If You’re Not Lucky?
There are certain parts of campus that I make sure to walk by because I know that’s where I can often find free food. Earlier this January, I had been given free hot chocolate at our Stratton Student Center and in the Lobby of Building 10 (noon is a popular time for organizations to put out free food and advertise here).
If you aren’t so lucky with free food, we do have other food options at MIT. There’s a selection of food trucks on campus, restaurants in the Student Center, and nearby eateries in Kendall Square and in Central Square.
Go on a Journey
When you’re at MIT, you will find yourself surrounded by free food, whether it’s from group meetings, seminars, workshops, or even just because the Alumni Association or Graduate Student Council wants to feed hungry grad students. Within a few weeks, you too will be an expert on free food.
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