For two days, 71 University students ate off $4.30 per day.
But their spending wasn’t limited because of financial need. They took on the eating challenge for a University class called “Twenty Two Ways to Think About Food” — a course offered under the pilot program Sophomore Initiative — to experience what it was like to live off the average monetary allotment for people receiving food stamps.
The Sophomore Initiative was started this fall as a way to increase programming for sophomores as they make their way through the in-between stages of college, according to Philip Deloria, LSA associate dean of undergraduate education and one of the creators of the program. Deloria, who also teaches “Twenty Two Ways to Think About Food,” said sophomores have outgrown freshman seminars, and have not necessarily chosen their concentrations like juniors and seniors.
“You’ve got these two big clusters of opportunities for students, and we do have a little bit of a gap in relation to the kind of programming we do for sophomores,” he said.
Sophomore Initiative has three primary components: academic work, internship help and experiential learning. The program offers academic classes and seminars catered specifically to the needs of sophomores and has also partnered with the Career Center to better prepare LSA students for internships.
Additionally, the Sophomore Initiative program provides a number of learning opportunities for LSA students to experience real work environments and apply their liberal arts education. Deloria said sophomore year is a critical year in terms of choosing a concentration, and the Sophomore Initiative helps to point students in the right direction.
“We wanted to create a couple of classes where students could see the college and could see a wide range of opportunities and possibilities in a really short, compressed period of time,” Deloria said.
LSA sophomore Maxwell Salvatore said he took the class “Twenty Two Ways to Think About Food” to help him narrow down his concentration choices.
“I’m currently undecided, and I thought this class was kind of like my last chance to, you know, get a little taste of all sorts of disciplines that are available,” Salvatore said. “I think it’s given me a little bit of an idea of the kind of things that I want to do. It’s certainly given me a taste of things I don’t want to do.”
Salvatore participated in the two-day food stamps challenge and ate off $8.60 over the course of 48 hours. During this period, Salvatore said one of the most important things he realized is the importance of planning out meals.
“As long as you really do plan, and you don’t mind cooking your own meals, I mean it’s pretty manageable in terms of eating a variety of foods and cheap foods,” he said.
Salvatore added that he did get hungry on the first night and during the second day of the experiment. However, he said the experience wasn’t long enough to determine whether he could actually live off food stamps. Ultimately, Salvatore said he was glad he participated in the challenge.
LSA sophomore Caroline Schiff, who is also in Deloria’s class, wrote in an e-mail interview that she and her friends combined their money so they could buy food in bulk.
“We had to make some sacrifices, such as buying grape jelly instead of strawberry, so we could save those extra 20 cents,” Schiff wrote. “However, we managed to buy a sufficient amount of food for six meals.”
She added that because of the budget constraint, she had to eat cheap, unhealthy food that she usually tries to avoid.
“I prefer to eat healthy, fresh food, which is usually more expensive,” Schiff wrote. “I also felt more lethargic throughout the day due to the quality of food I was consuming.”
The class that administered the experiment features guest lecturers from different departments within LSA, and each guest offers a perspective on food in relation to their areas of study including history, political science, physics and economics.
Schiff, said in a separate interview that even though she has already declared her major, she still thought she could gain something from the class.
“I kind of wanted a class that was different from my major and anything I’ve ever taken,” Schiff said. “I like how there’s a different lecturer every class and how they give a different perspective on food.”
Though LSA is a liberal arts institution, Deloria said many students don’t get the full benefit of liberal arts programming because they are often too focused on finding a concentration. One of the objectives of the Sophomore Initiative, he said, is to help students understand the benefits of having a liberal arts education.
“We wanted to sort of have some courses where we tried to prepare students better to sort of say, you know, ‘Here’s who I am, here’s what I did while I was here, here’s how it translates into my success,’” Deloria said.
Margot Finn, a lecturer I in American Culture, is also teaching a Sophomore Initiative class about food titled, “Much Depends Upon Dinner.” Finn said looking at food from a multidisciplinary perspective is an effective window into different fields of study. She describes her class as a food studies course, which examines food from a cultural perspective.
“What’s interesting to me about food is that it’s both incredibly personal, and we interact with it on a daily basis,” Finn said.