Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Grad Student Diet

Let me begin this post by sharing a few anecdotes regarding the feeding habits of the Graduate Student.

Two weeks ago, while my companions and I were on spring break, one of my friends had a birthday.  When I got back to Santa Barbara from the Bay Area, as his birthday present, I made him a cake.  A Southern Comfort red velvet cake, to be exact.  (I've somehow become The Girl Who Bakes With Booze.  I don't really know why, but it's fun.)  The cake, horrifically decorated (it turns out I'm a much better baker than icer) got sent home with my friend after a get-together.  I was overjoyed, and vastly amused, to see him post on Twitter, three days later, that he was eating the last piece of cake for breakfast.

Yesterday was my department's Open House for admitted students.  All the brilliant, lucky future scholars who have been accepted to the program were invited to come visit campus, meet professors and current grad students, and be wooed by the fantastic weather (which, by the way, apparently decided to vanish as soon as the event was over).  Lunch was served to the prospective students, and was offered to current grad students as well, in order to provide a lunch hour for mingling.  Lunch went until 1.  I had a graduate seminar that lasted until 12:50.  We all knew there was free food.  At 12:49 we had our pens back into our book bags, and as soon as the professor ended class we literally elbowed each other out of the way to get down the hall to the free sandwiches.  It turns out there were plenty left, but the rush for the free food was only light-hearted because of that.  I shudder to think what would have happened had the four of us reached the room only to find fewer than four sandwiches left.

Last night, after the prospective students had been given the official open house, the current grad students treated them to a bit of the non-campus centered life, and we went out for drinks downtown.  As the evening went on, a group of us adjourned to the house of one of my colleagues.  As he was making drinks for his guests, another colleague opened his refrigerator in search of something to snack on.  We all laughed at the sight of a fridge containing eggs, milk, bread, cat medicine, water, and a jar of olives.  "This," I said, "is going in my next blog post about the Grad Student Diet."

The Grad Student Diet is not a way to lose weight, or a way to get healthier in some aspect, or to honor particular moral choices.  Certainly, those can affect the GSD.  Several of my friends and colleagues are vegetarians or vegans, and they manage, with perhaps a bit more ingenuity needed, to commit to the GSD.  (On a related note, but a topic that may be explored more fully in another post, as it doesn't quite fit here, I am contemplating making a switch, or at least a shift, towards a vegetarian diet.  But more on that another time.)  The GSD, above all, favors one type of food: the food that you did not have to pay for.  This phenomenon has been noted before; Jorge Cham, in his fabulous comic PhD Comics (Piled Higher and Deeper), has made plenty of note of the grad student drive to find free food.  But it bears repeating here, especially since I believe I have at least a few readers who may be unfamiliar with the GSD.  The GSD works, in a rather wonderful way, to foster co-operation and community among fellow grad students.  I will give you free food now, goes the tacit agreement, and you will then give me free food at some later date.  Potlucks, BYO-whatevers, and similar get-togethers all help us feed ourselves and each other at (hopefully) minimal cost.

"Can you get by in Santa Barbara," a prospective student asked yesterday, "on the TA-ship/fellowship you get as a grad student at UCSB?"  I'd say the answer is Yes, so long as you have a good community to support your new GSD lifestyle, and so long as you can fully commit to being what I think I'll start calling Freetarian.