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Good Food, Better Friends

By David Jensen


Coming to D.C. was a big change of scenery for me, and I mean that literally. Growing up in a small town of less than five thousand people where the tallest building is probably the tip of a church steeple, doesn’t exactly prepare you to live on your own in a metropolitan area of over 600 thousand.

However, the size of the city was not what I was most nervous about while pondering what my semester in D.C. would be like. I had maneuvered my way around cities like Chicago and London before, and was fairly comfortable with my ability to do so here. What I was more concerned about was whether or not I would have cool roommates that I could spend time with.

While I knew that I would be extremely busy with my internship, classes, projects, and tours, I also knew there would be plenty of free time to explore the city and didn’t want to do so alone. I also knew that my best shot to make friends would initially be with my roommates. I really wanted to like the guys I would be living with because as anyone who’s ever had roommates knows, they can either make or break an experience.

Fortunately, they turned out to be better than I could’ve ever hoped for. Scott and Zack are both great, and we have plenty of good times together. Whether it’s going out for drinks and dinner on the weekends, exploring new places, or just chilling in our apartment after work farting around or binge watching Game of Thrones, we have a great time. All I was hoping for were people that I could get along with. But what I got, are two guys who I can genuinely say are good friends of mine, which is pretty special after just under two months together.

Something I wasn’t worried about before coming to D.C. but should have been is food. There are way too many good places to eat, and they are all within walking distance of my apartment and office. So of course and soon as I got to the city I was eager to try as many new places as possible (and maybe the fact that I didn’t want to grocery shop or cook played a factor as well…just maybe).

I’ve found that grocery shopping is much more of an inconvenience without a car. When you have to carry all your groceries back with you or pack them in the back seat of an Uber, it discourages you from buying in bulk. So needless to say, the first few weeks here I found out the hard way how quickly and seamlessly a bank account can plummet when you are spending $10 a day on lunch and going out to eat every weekend.

There was one bright spot in my restaurant excursions. Scott, Zack and I found this awesome seafood restaurant just down the street called Hot N Juicy Crawfish and it’s become our go-to favorite place. I even recommended it to my boss and he proceeded to thank me the following week after he went with some friends. I recommended it to everyone in the D.C./Woodley Park area. But the food wouldn’t taste as good if I didn’t have some awesome friends to share it with.
Moral of the story: friends are important, and so is food. Find a happy medium between eating out and grocery shopping, and your bank account will thank you. I also highly recommend Amazon Prime Pantry if you’re already a member. It’s clutch.

Finance and Hunger in D.C. – A Savage Journey to the Heart of an Undergrad’s Checking Account

By Chris Vest

Having grown up in a small, rural town with maybe five fast food restaurants, a few mom-and-pop diners and a questionable Chinese place for dining options, I have few reservations about making reservations at various eateries when the chance strikes. Any food that might be considered ‘unique’ where I come from (see: any ethnic eatery or even any place with a semi-decent atmosphere) draws me like a moth to a flame. I’ve spent many week-long vacations in big cities, and weekend outings in some of the more culturally oriented parts of my home state of Michigan, but never before have I settled in for a months-long stay in a cultural mecca like the District.

My first week here I don’t think I cooked a single meal in my apartment. The second morning I made a brief stop at a nearby grocery store to pick up a handful of essentials (for posterity’s sake if anything else) and some of them still remain untouched in the cabinet, waiting to find purpose. Whether it was Portuguese chicken, pad thai, sushi, Lebanese, or crepes, I never found myself want for options. Worse yet, all of these options were within 15 minutes walking distance of my apartment. At first, I was in heaven.

I spent the better part of my summer preparing for this semester working a minimum wage job, keeping my spending lean and my wallet fat. Little did I know that my efforts were in vain. After my second week here, I decided it might be a smart idea to check my bank account. What did I know? As far as I was concerned I had been fairly responsible – only spending my budget on the necessary components of integrating myself into a new area. What I saw was perhaps a reflection of my own hubris – possibly how a large portion of Wall Street felt before the Stock Market Crash of 1929. I had blown through my finances in (relatively) small transactions faster than I think I ever have in my entire life. With the occasional necessary Smart Trip card refill or Uber interspersed, I was presented with a wall of restaurant charges so large that I sincerely wished we could make Mexico pay for it.

From that point on, my diet was purely despair-inducing. While I watched my classmates go out to try new restaurants and go to group dinners, I stayed in to eat affordable, $2.00-or-less-per-serving meals. My shameless self-indulgence had put me in a financial situation where I had to keep my wallet in my pocket for about as long as I possibly could. I wasn’t broke, but my budget for activities was nearly spent.

Do not let my story serve as a warning against going out and seeing the sights, or indulging oneself; rather, treat it as a cautionary tale. Ration your precious opportunities to eat out and experience the local cuisine well. Don’t eat out alone on impulse, share in the experience with friends. Make the culinary arch of your trip a rich tapestry of personal experiences instead of a brief flavor binge. Give yourself time to process and digest the culinary marvels you experience rather than mindlessly consuming as fast as you can. For now, I’m going to go defrost several pounds of black beans and rice that I made in the days following my financial revelation. Don’t be like me, keep your impulses in check and your wallet close.

Originally posted October 5, 2016