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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Eating at Huskie Food Pantry for a week

I didn’t buy food for a week; here’s what happened
Sofia Didenko
The aisles of the Huskie Food Pantry sit full of food. The Huskie Food Pantry offers free food for NIU students on Wednesdays and Thursdays. (Sofia Didenko | Northern Star)

After a class trip to the Huskie Food Pantry, I decided to put myself into the shoes of people who do not have access to grocery stores or the means to purchase food often. 

The rules are:

  1. I cannot purchase food for a week.
  2. I can buy drinks, but I decided to limit myself. Essentially, I’m not going to spend $7 on a coffee.
  3. I cannot use my own meal swipes.
  4. I’m going to try to use campus resources. 
  5. I can use foods I had before the experiment began.
  6. I’m going to rate everything I eat and report back once or twice a day. 

This week – from Wednesday to Wednesday, the day the Huskie Food Pantry opens – I decided to only eat food I didn’t pay for. 

The Huskie Food Pantry is open from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. every Wednesday and Thursday in the Chick Evans Field House

Wednesday, April 3

At 4:13 p.m., I went into the Chick Evans Field House. 

It was familiar location-wise, but I was nervous because it was my first time going to a food pantry. Despite being certain that I didn’t need to feel shame about receiving food from helpful organizations like food pantries, as I approached the field house doors and walked through the track, I did feel a hill of anxiety building up. 

But the moment I saw people there, I was a bit relieved. It was the familiarity that calmed me down. From first glance, there was nothing that screamed “I GO TO THE FOOD PANTRY” about them; they were just the regular NIU crowd. 

The stigma of free resources is something that can be limiting and something that can get to all of us. 

The crowd was sitting on short bleachers as they waited their turn to go inside the pantry. I walked up to the front desk and got a number because I had not signed up ahead of time. Eventually, it was 4:55 p.m., and I had a meeting at 5 p.m., so I went up to the front desk to give my number back as I thought I’d just have to come back tomorrow.

That’s when the person who was running the check-in walked over to his manager and told him my situation. 

Next thing I knew, I was allowed to go into the pantry early. This kind person was so devoted to making sure everyone had something to eat; it’s really powerful to see devotion like this from an organization. 

In the pantry, I grabbed a reusable bag and headed in. Before me was a fridge with strawberries and an orange drink. It was exciting to see strawberries because I usually can’t afford them and can only eat them when I go home on weekends. 

I’ve oddly never seen a whole strawberry in the dining halls, or any other full fruit except for the everyday apples and bananas. 

There was also a fridge with frozen bread, meat and sweet treats like cakes and dozens of donuts. 

What stood out to me were the frozen meals. They seemed a lot healthier than the ones from grocery stores, and there was a big portion per meal. I grabbed three.

After I was done walking through the pantry, some volunteers weighed my groceries, asked some questions and I was free to leave. 

I was shocked by how much my arm hurt carrying these groceries to my meeting. I had gotten a great amount of food free of cost. 

After not being able to eat all day, I was pretty hungry and I’d been dreaming about minestrone soup throughout my meeting. 

Once I got to my dorm, I popped it into the microwave; after 10 minutes it was still icy. After another 10, it was ready to eat. I ate it with Trader Joe’s Sweet and Salty Umami crisps. Not only was it tasty, but it also felt very filling because of all of the vegetables and beans in it. 

I had a StarKist tuna package while I waited. It was bland, so I seasoned it with Cholula hot sauce. 

I rate this meal an 8/10. 

Thursday, April 4 

On Thursday, I woke up and rushed to an interview. Afterward, I got home and ate some spicy pickles I bought last week. I also opened a canned chicken noodle soup. I warmed the soup in the microwave and drank some water. 

Everything went smoothly, and it was an alright meal. The pickles really helped flavor the soup.

I give it a 6/10 (the pickles REALLY helped out) 

I also snacked on the Trader Joe’s Sweet and Salty Umami Crunchies. 

I realized I actually didn’t have enough meals for the weekend and the first half of next week. 

Tip: When using the NIU pantry consistently, it is important to plan out your week and study your eating habits because of the limited hours of operation. 

I rushed out of a club meeting at 5:50 p.m. to have a chance to go into the pantry. I brought my friends from the Innovation Club, and they filled some bags up too. Since I didn’t have a kitchen in the dorms, we went to one of my friends’ places after club and shared a pot of spaghetti and tomato sauce with a few other ingredients from the host’s fridge like onions. It was a lot of fun cooking together and comforting to know we didn’t spend much money on the meal. 

I rate this meal 9.5/10 

Friday, April 5 

I woke up around 8:30 a.m. and zoomed to a 9 a.m. class. After this, I was very thirsty, so I stopped by Einstein Bros. Bagels and got some iced black tea. Then, I headed to my dorm and had the portabella mushrooms and roasted potatoes frozen meal. This time, I only had to microwave it for five minutes. 

This meal really shocked me; it had a perfect charred grill taste that brought back memories of childhood barbeques. 

I rate it an 8.5/10 

The rest of the day I hung out at the Northern Star Office, where I was able to eat two slices of free pizza, which ended up being my dinner. 

Around 9 p.m. I wanted a snack and ate some pepperoni slices.  

Saturday, April 6

I woke up and felt pretty hungry, so I heated up the sausage, egg and potato frozen meal. It was good but nothing special. 

I rate it a 6/10.  

I got full and put the meal away for later. I also took some bites out of a bread loaf and spread some peanut butter on it. 

I was hanging out with a friend and brought the meatball, mashed potato and green bean meal with me because she wanted to eat at Stevenson Dining. 

At Stevenson, I did not find a microwave there, and after the staff were unable to heat up the meal for me, we had to go to Patterson Dining Hall.

It was a bit of a struggle to heat this meal up as it took about 10 minutes.

All the ingredients were pretty tasty except for the meatballs. They were very dense, dry and tasted like beef jerky. 

I rate it 5/10. 

Later in the day, my friend gave me a slice of pizza at her place. 

Sunday, April 7

I got back from my friend’s house in the morning, and I ate the rest of the potatoes. They were amazing reheated, an 8/10.

I was still hungry, so I made instant oats and borrowed some milk from my roommate. 

At this point, I had three frozen meals left, two being soups, and decided I may have to go back to the pantry on Wednesday. 

Around 5 p.m., I ate a pear and was feeling pretty hungry 

Around 10 p.m., I felt very hungry  but was scared that I would not have enough food to last throughout the week. 

I was at the library and saw the free snack shelf that is supplied by the food pantry. The way I rushed to it was almost involuntary. I guess I was a lot hungrier than I thought. I’ve also realized what a huge snacker I am because I haven’t been able to really snack this week.

At the shelf, I was met with a picked-out cabinet with two bags of pasta, mac and cheese, a tin of tomatoes and a bag of Royal Hawaiian Orchards sea salt and cracked pepper macadamia nuts. I think this bag of nuts was the highlight of my day. I usually would never pick something like this, but I highly recommend it; they are very flavorful, and the texture is a lot of fun for us texture eaters: 9/10.

Monday, April 8

It was time for class, so I went to my 9 a.m., and I really took no time to eat because I was busy looking for the Northern Star paperweight for the treasure hunt. 

I then headed over to the eclipse party. After this, I had class and then a meeting; I did swipe a bit of cilantro from my box garden outside of the Stevens Building. Then I got a blended lavender and honey latte from Cast Iron Coffee. That was a 9/10. 

Later that evening, I ate some of the pepperoni slices, and I had some tuna that I seasoned with Cholula again. I didn’t eat much Monday, but I was so busy that I didn’t really notice. Not really a meal, but I give it a 5/10.

Tuesday, April 9

I woke up, made some oats and had them with two scoops of peanut butter. 

I wanted to eat my last soup can, which was the condensed cream of chicken soup. It sounded good to me. 

When I opened it, I was shocked to see a jelly-like consistency. I tried it and was met with a sort of lardy flavor that I didn’t like too much. I looked it up, and many people eat condensed soup on bread, so I tried it on my bread loaf. It was a bit better but did not have much flavor. The chicken pieces in there were a bit odd too, but they definitely gave the thing some flavor. I didn’t end up finishing it and left my dorm to go about my day. I give it a 2/10.

I also had a Nature Valley bar. 

Later, I traded all of my meal swipes to a friend in exchange for chemistry tutoring service, and she gave me a slice of pizza. 

Wednesday, April 10

The last day. I really missed snacks, and at this point I was really craving Canes and other food that I could buy. 

I ate my pasta, marinara and green bean frozen meal in the morning. It was really good and well-seasoned. I give it an 8/10.

After classes, I ate my last minestrone soup and enjoyed it. 

And that concludes my week! Surprisingly I had leftover food!

Looks like I was still lacking nutrients a few of the days where I did not have time to eat or simply didn’t eat enough. I also got some cans of fruit that I could not eat because I did not have a can opener. 

However, taking away the day when I was scared that I didn’t have enough food, it felt really nice having a variety of healthy options at my fingertips. 

My biggest struggles were opening some of the food and getting enough food from the pantry. After doing this experiment, I realized how inconvenient eating can be; it takes a huge chunk out of our very busy college days, but we need it to live. I encourage everyone to look at what and how often they eat in a day and see if it’s really enough substance-wise and nutrition-wise. 

Overall, the pantry is a great resource even for people with meal swipes, and I’ll be coming back to grab some meals and fruit.

Also, I didn’t end up using it, but the NIU police station has emergency food bags for anyone who needs some food, so this is a good option for anyone who can’t make it to the pantry.

Food, including tuna and strawberries, sits on a desk. This food is some the food that was available at the Huskie Food Pantry. (Sofia Didenko | Northern Star)
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