Season 11 Episode 10

Does the Student Food Experience Really Suck?

Chips, beans and cheese toasties… Get ready, because today we’re talking about the student food experience in all its glory! We’re heading all the way back to 2005, when Ben Ebbrell and Jamie Spafford were just starting out at uni. We discuss what student cooking is like and hear some of your uni nightmares, while Ebbers does his best to convince us that it isn’t really that bad… With so much food content available now, we’re wondering if the student food experience still sucks. If you’re a student, let us know in the comments below! Has your experience of cooking been the same? Do you have any pearls of wisdom for future students?


Best soundbite“You either leave lockdown chunky or hunky” – Ben Ebbrell

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Something to make you think...

According to a Barclays study, today’s students are much more inclined towards healthy eating. So much so that there’s been a 266% increase in the popularity of avocados compared to in the ’90s! But why do you think this is? What has changed?

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  1. The story of James making pasta with a kettle reminds me of my 1st year at uni which was fully catered except for weekend dinners (God knows why – I think they expected us to eat out). So I had to learn how to make pasta and rice from scratch with just a bowl, kettle and a microwave.

  2. Oropher

    Late to comment (just catching up on podcasts today), but going to school late 70s/early 80s as a girl, we were shunted in 6th grade into a class called “Home Economics.” (Just the girls. The boys got to play football.) We were taught how to balance a checkbook, cook simple dishes, set a budget, sew, and clean and decorate a house. For the baking segment, my teacher had us choose one “international” pastry to master, and I picked Norwegian kringla, which turned out to be such a big hit with my Dad that I made it for him every Christmas from 1980 until last year.

    That way, when I got to college, I had a leg up on all of my roommates, though we were not allowed to cook in the dormitories. I got around this by making bagel pizzas, salads, hot pot noodles, and sandwiches when the RAs weren’t paying attention. By the time I graduated and got my own place, I could make a halfway decent meal with protein/veg/carb, and good desserts.

    My daughter, on the other hand, is a terrible cook, and would call me from her apartment begging for step by step instructions. She reduced broccoli to glowing embers once by putting it on the hob to steam, then TAKING A 20 MINUTE SHOWER. Needless to say the pot was ruined! I contend to this day she married her husband simply because, for their first date, he made her chicken parm!

  3. Taheera

    I think my student experience was slightly unique. Even though I lived in a res that had one of the best cafs on campus, I actually lost 10 pounds my first year! The only explanation I could come with was that I had grown up eating food that didn’t have the amount of butter and salt that the cooks in the caf kitchen were using, therefore my body didn’t like the food, so I subconsciously took smaller portions. I wasn’t the only one this happened to: my roommate also came from a foodie family of home cooks, and she lost weight as well, not as much as me, but still.

    I think my experience was helped and shaped by the fact that I did know some fundamental food skills, so I was able to help out friends and make friends through my cooking skills. So if Jamie’s kids go to uni having a few core dishes/skills under their belt, that will definitely help them make and keep friends, in my experience.

    I will disagree with Ben in saying that in my experience, even with the advent of YouTube and the readiness of online resources, if you don’t have the confidence in doing fundamentals, your natural default will be to what is easy/you know is safe and there are so many cheap options for food out there, from takeaway to microwave meals to the humble PB&J. However, if you were taught by a parent, friend, mentor, or in schools how to boil eggs, make pasta, do those quick and simple meals that can give you those nutrients that a cheap student-priced large pizza will not, I think that would be awesome. Maybe there’s a series for Sorted in that, go back to the roots and do Masterclasses in fundamental skills like boiling eggs.

    • Sorted

      That’s amazing that you lost weight, especially when most people do end up gaining a few pounds. The local cafe is not interested in keeping you trim, they just want their food to taste good.

      It’s all the basics that students need to be taught, and maybe they should be taught this at secondary/high school level.

  4. Sunanda_K

    Most Indian universities have hostels that do not allow cooking. We had to eat mess food or eat out. Most of us smuggled in a kettle and made cup noodles or made toasties by wrapping sandwiches in aluminium foil and ironing them. (yes, with a clothing iron :D)
    Most of us learnt how to cook properly when we had our first jobs.

    • Sorted

      We didn’t know that, that’s such a shame! What an experience to missing out on!

  5. I was staying at a uni mates sharehouse and as a thank you to the housemates I decided to make the one thing I was taught – a veg curry. As I poked through my friends’ veggie selection I found some red capsicums. Bingo! I went so far as to lay the table and everyone sat down to what ended up being an eye-wateringly spicy curry. Turns out that those capsicums were actually pretty potent chillies (I had no idea of chilli types at this point!). The curry was entirely based on this ‘vegetable’.

    My thank you meal ended up keeping everyone awake that night. Since then I just say thank you with wine/beer.

    • Sorted

      Hahaha, this is hilarious. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

  6. Rachelr186

    I remember university really opening my eyes to new foods – especially from other cultures that I had never experienced before. Sharing a hall with students from across the country and the world helped me learn lots about different foods and different styles of cooking. Loved it when we all came back from the holidays visiting home and sharing our local foods with one another in the communal kitchen!

    • Sorted

      Sounds like you had a very enriching experience, what a way to experience different cuisines and cultures!

  7. Mnemosyne

    So I never lived in a dorm or sth. But when i moved out as a student I knew how to make noodles and any instant meal package from “Maggi”. It was a slow developement of skills, I knew more about baking than anything else. Pinterest and cookbooks were my saviours. The worst experience I remember was a friend who went on a student exchange who called me from Barth (I live in Berlin) to ask me about a recipe for only one pot, no oven, no big chopping and preferiably with noodles. As it was really late she also could not really buy anything. So i send her a one pot pasta and told her to wing it. She planed to make a dish for 4 persons. Oh well.

    • Taheera

      That is super concerning! You’re already spending a ton of money going to school and now you’re not even getting fed? That’s so rough :/

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