Let’s go back to June of 2020. It was an early Saturday morning, and I had just woken up. I was immediately on edge as my day had started with a robbery–one with my own father as the culprit. “Give me your debit card,” he said. His words were striking and loud. His voice filled my room as I lifted my head from my pillow in shock.
However, this isn’t what you might think, and I wasn’t a victim in any way. If anybody, or anything, was victimized in this scenario, it was my poor bank account which had been drained about $300 down the money-sucking pit that is DoorDash (an app you can download onto your phone to order food straight to your door). Quarantine had me exiled to my bedroom, I nearly refused to cook for myself, and having food delivered through DoorDash was convenient. Almost three years later, I still struggle to properly budget my money when it comes to food and eating out. To be honest with you, I probably spend about $100 a month on food.
But why? I have a basic understanding of how to cook, my dad keeps our kitchen very well stocked, he cooks for us, and I definitely know it’s not sustainable to purchase food for every meal. It comes down to convenience, as it does for a lot of my peers as well. As a senior, I know this won’t stay convenient for long, and I’ll have to learn how to cook at some point. However, getting my driver’s license, a car, and a job has set me back from the craft that is cooking and thrown me full force into near debt as a teenager. I never used to spend as much money on food as I did this year – freshman year DoorDash incident aside – which tells me this is an issue within upperclassmen that emerges with freedom and independence.
This year I’m taking Introduction to Culinary Arts as well as Bake Shop. After the first quarter, I can confidently say that my skills in the kitchen have improved, and I spend less money on food after realizing how easy cooking is. It took a little bit of cooking and baking to recognize that spending the money on food isn’t much more convenient and isn’t nearly as rewarding. So why do my peers and I continue to spend such exorbitant amounts of money on food?
I decided to talk to Nick Ricciardi, the culinary and bake shop teacher at Oyster River High School (ORHS) about students’ abilities in class. If people aren’t cooking at home, and are instead spending their money on take-out food, I thought that might be because they aren’t sure how to cook food they really like. “I would say that about 30% of my kids have no idea what they’re doing,” Ricciardi said. But you can’t be clueless in the kitchen forever. “It’s important to learn how to cook because it’s healthier and cheaper,” Ricciardi said.
Like I said, at ORHS, you can take Introduction to Culinary Arts and Bake Shop with Ricciardi, where he said that he sees students become more comfortable with using ingredients and being in a kitchen in general. “I think ultimately the students who really sink their teeth in, take charge, and put in effort get not only a much better experience but they get a lot better at cooking and at being able to cook on their own,” Ricciardi said. “Kids will start to say that they made the recipe at home for their families or other people, and that’s really what the goal is,” he added.
But sometimes even while in one of Ricciardi’s classes, students will still buy food, although they are building skills in the kitchen. “I probably spend about $30 a week on DoorDash,” said Bake Shop student Gavin Weingart (‘23). While this may not seem like much, after just four weeks (or one month), that’s $120 spent on overpriced mediocre delivery food. I know I can’t say much considering my pricey history with DoorDash, but I think that makes me all the more qualified to harbor any opinion I wish. “I’m just too lazy to really learn how to cook,” he added. Hearing this, my ideas changed. Perhaps cooking seems boring to most teenagers, as there is much more satisfaction in just being handed something.
I realized I needed to speak more with students my age to get a gauge of how severe the problem of buying food is. Emily Macpherson (‘23) talked about the satisfaction piece of being able to eat food and not having to cook. “I mostly get food right after school when I’m most hungry and I know it’s going to satisfy me, rather than going home to just eat ramen,” she said. But again, bringing back the math, if you get food three days a week after school, spending around $10 each time, by the end of the month you’ve spent $120, and by the end of the year, you’ve spent $1,440.
Other students like Dillon Crockett (‘23) have become fed up with seeing how much they spend on food. Crockett budgets his money when it comes to purchases like food. “I try not to spend over $20 a week,” Crockett said. “I get fast food, and I keep my purchases small. Usually just a $1 sandwich but it still adds up,” he added. Fast food isn’t always cheap, especially if you get it multiple times a week. Crockett said, “I recently realized that I had been buying food almost every day. I started limiting myself a bit.” And while we all should take some tips from Crockett, it’s not that easy to set the boundary within yourself to not spend money.
This is because of what I mentioned previously, how for some people eating out is more about convenience, and less about the money, and I totally get that. It’s not the end of the world when you don’t have time or energy to cook, or maybe there’s nothing at your house that you can cook. But the problem starts when buying food becomes habitual, or almost built into your schedule. “When I’m on a break [from work] I’ll usually go to Chipotle and I’ll spend anywhere from $12-$15,” Bai-ley Barth-Malone (‘23) said. Assuming Barth-Malone works two days a week, that’s ANOTHER $120 on food monthly. But what else are they going to do? They’re on break at work! It’s convenient to go buy food!
But is it really all about convenience and laziness? Or is it something about the food that students are buying that’s just irresistible? Because you could totally pack a lunch or bring a snack to hold you over. In a small poll I took of 22 Oyster River Students, six of them said Hop ‘n Grind was one of their favorite places to eat locally. As a devoted Hop ‘n Grind regular, I understand these results. The food has flavor and savoriness that you just can’t find at other restaurants in Durham, and for how satisfying the food is, it’s a great price. When I looked at the menu, I saw that the cheapest meal is for $6, and is a plain cheeseburger with french fries. Personally, I’d consider that a good deal on real food from a local restaurant when you consider the prices of meals from fast food chains.
But again, how does that add up? Three $6 sandwiches a week is $18, in a month that’s $72, and in a year that’s $864. So, is there ever really a good deal on food from restaurants? Well, kind of. The convenience defi-nitely pays for the meal sometimes, but as high school-ers we don’t have the money to pay convenience fees like that. There’s an important life lesson when it comes to buying food and spending money on food, as it is clearly not sustainable to spend $800 a month on food on top of groceries. The most sustainable way to live is to buy groceries and learn how to cook, though it’s not always the most obvious way.
When there’s food you just can’t help but crave, my advice to you is to learn how to cook that food! Not only will you save money, but you’ll have fun doing so!
– Ava Gruner