Living on campus, as most Warwick students do in their first year, certainly feels like a microcosm: being nocturnal is the norm, instant noodles become delicious cuisine, and no one stops to wonder how shopping trolleys end up on rooftops and in ponds.
Nowhere do the eccentric characters who inhabit this world clash as easily as in the accommodation kitchens. Once the careful politeness of the first few weeks wears off, the secret and strange food habits hidden below the surface come to light. Here’s a guide to the seven people you’re guaranteed to meet in student kitchens:
1. “The Mamma’s Boy”
The Mamma’s Boy doesn’t have to be a boy. Their defining characteristic is showing up at the beginning of the year with more food containers than a single person should be able to carry, filled to the brim with their parents’ food. These treasures are stocked in the freezer and carefully portioned to last them until the winter holidays, (or at least reading week). At this point, all of the empty containers are taken home, only to be refilled over the holidays so that the cycle can continue. Some feeble attempts at learning how to cook are made, but it just doesn’t taste the same as it does at home.
They do have two meals in their repertoire, mainly to make the precious little tastes of home last longer: dry rice with vegetables and something resembling chicken, and pasta with tuna and warm (!) mayonnaise. Bon appétit!
2. “The Doomsday Prepper”
The Doomsday Prepper is not dissimilar to The Mamma’s Boy in their extensive freezer usage, except they go to the trouble of preparing all that food themself. They’re not a bad cook, if a little repetitive, favouring dishes like cauliflower cheese and lasagne which are easy to defrost and reheat. When asked about their stockpiling, they try to make it sound sensible and grown-up by claiming they “simply cook four portions at a time, eat one, and freeze the rest. Meal-prepping makes life so much easier!”
However, the eight containers of cauliflower cheese that have slowly taken over the freezer, the nondescript celery bake from last November, and their (failed) attempt to freeze pasta say otherwise. Oh well, they’re certainly a good friend to have in the event of a nuclear catastrophe that destroys all of civilisation, but miraculously leaves the freezer in your kitchen untouched.
3. “The Wild Card”
Every student kitchen needs a Wild Card. Their cupboard is stacked with cans of beans and tuna, lentils, and 90 % dark chocolate. Their freezer space is occupied by cauliflower florets, peas, and chicken. And yes, all those things end up in the same meal (or perhaps, ‘creation’ would be a more fitting term). Their culinary exploits are half-baked and experimental at best, a recipe for disaster at worst. They inevitably trigger the fire alarm at some point by trying to boil ten eggs at once in a tiny pan and forgetting about them until all the water has evaporated and all that’s left are briquettes. Their only reaction to the whole episode: “Oh. Do you think I can still use the pan?”
4. “The Health Nut”
The Health Nut keeps scales in their drawer to weigh out every single ingredient of every single meal and take meticulous notes in their calorie counting app. Depending on which version of the Healthy One you encounter, they either own a food processor which they feed with kale, matcha, and spinach for their morning smoothie or own a big box of protein powder (sometimes both). They do eat pasta — they’re a student, after all — but only wholegrain. Broccoli is their comfort food.
5. “The Chef”
The Chef owns a spice collection that would make Gordon Ramsay turn green with envy and then red with rage (the exact shade of the unenviable chicken he famously takes apart while blindfolded in That One Video that has served as an initiation to British TV and cuisine for many an international student). In addition to the spices, they’re the only one in the entire flat who owns an apron and oven gloves. They also brought a whole box of cooking paraphernalia from home, including but not limited to three types of ladles. After the winter holidays, they show up with a brand-new frying pan that doubles as a wok, no less proud than if they’d invented it themself. On the rare occasion of making sub-par student food (otherwise known as pasta), they like it al dente. The Chef doesn’t use recipes. They ‘improvise’ or ‘just whip something up’. They don’t cook, they ‘prepare’: risotto, lasagne with proper béchamel sauce, home-made sushi, bœuf bourguignon. If you have a hard time pronouncing it, you can be sure they’ve made it at some point.
6. “The Freeloader”
The Freeloader, otherwise known as everyone’s least favourite flatmate, doesn’t believe in private property – at least, not where food is concerned. At the weekly flat film night, they heartily dip their spoon into other people’s Ben and Jerry’s without batting an eyelid. They swear they had nothing to do with the chicken that mysteriously disappeared from the kitchen one night. They don’t know how you ran out of milk so fast. Occasionally, when they’re not too busy stealing other people’s food, they spend hours in the kitchen. The aroma that wafts through the flat can only be described as mouth-watering. But no one knows if their food tastes as good as it smells, because they don’t share.
7. “The Stereotypical Student”
The Stereotypical Student’s food habits are precisely as a boomer would picture them. They’ve mastered the art of surviving university on a diet of Tesco meal deals, instant noodles, and frozen pizza. When they do cook, it’s pasta with pesto. If they’re feeling fancy, they might add some cherry tomatoes. After all, isn’t chopping almost the same as cooking?
Regardless of what accommodation you lived in, from Bluebell to Rootes, you’ll recognise these familiar figures from your flat. And, if you don’t remember a Freeloader ‘borrowing’ your ingredients or anyone else taking up all the space in the shared freezer, the worst might be true: it was you.