By Jessica Trappe
Cooking and eating are considered by many to be social activities. But what happens when you live alone? Many Rhodes University students who live off-campus find themselves slipping into unhealthy eating-habits because of lack of time, lack of motivation, and lack of a hefty budget.
I visited Victoria Nyawara (22) to discuss her eating-habits. Her flat, although small, is bigger than most digs I have seen in Grahamstown. As I sit down at her dining-room table, I smile at the takeaway menus stuck to her fridge. I have the same ones on my fridge at home.
Vicky is originally from Kenya, moved to Pretoria, and is currently living in Grahamstown to complete her Honours in Politics. She has been living in a bachelor flat for two years.
What was it like when you first moved into digs (student housing off campus)?
I spent all my money early on in the month and I was completely broke for the rest of the month. I was forced to eat weird things, like a bun with a pepper and onion. It made me wonder if it was nutritious, but it was cheap.
Why so many takeaways?
Because I couldn’t be bothered to cook hey, it’s just so much effort and it’s just you, so you don’t exactly need a gourmet meal, you just need sustenance. As long as I have food in my belly and if it’s quick and if I don’t have to stand over something and prep it, it should be fine.
I think that my financial management skills have gotten better and I do eat a little bit better now. Like, sometimes, I eat peas, so that’s something. I do cook once in a while though. I will cook once a week then eat leftovers for the rest of the week, but that’s not a constant.
What’s your favourite meal that you cook for yourself?
Aaah, it’s a chickpea curry. It’s really easy and cheap to make.
Another reason why I don’t cook is that the result of cooking requires you to wash dishes (she laughs). I hate washing dishes.
Let’s say I have a dirty lid from one of my containers. I will rinse it quickly and I will use the lid as a chopping board. I have a chopping board, but it’s just easier to clean a lid than a chopping board.
What’s your favourite snack when you are studying?
I drink soft-drinks a lot. In a week, I will buy cans and bottles and stack them up in my fridge. So, most of the time I prefer drinking cool-drinks and tea when I study.
You drink a lot of tea?
Oh, yeah, I drink a shit-load of tea.
I alternate; I have got different types, so like Masala tea or a vanilla tea. Sometimes, I will also have a cappuccino or a hot chocolate. It’s filling, and I know it’s bad, you know when you do things and you know they are bad but…(she laughs).
What did you have to eat yesterday?
I had Otees for breakfast. For lunch, I had noodles and a cool-drink. Ummm, I had a banana too. There is once in a while that I do buy fruit. Later on, I went out with a friend and had chips for dinner.
Did you know how to cook when you first came into digs?
My mum did try to teach me how to cook, but maybe it’s just my age because I am not interested in cooking. I mean, I like the end product, but the effort that goes into it is too much.
Do you eat a lot of cereal?
Yea, sometimes I will even have it for dinner.
I don’t always have lunch because I am not always at home for lunch, so I might just grab something at Pick ‘n Pay, like a samosa, but that also costs money so sometimes I just won’t have lunch and I will come home and have a big-ass bowl of cereal . So, yeah, there are times that I can eat cereal for breakfast and dinner.
What do you eat most often?
Noodles. Noodles more than cereal.
In a month maybe I will cook 3 times. Oh, that sounds terrible when I say it out load, ooooh, that sounds terrible (she laughs).
Do you ever cook Kenyan dishes?
Oh, that takes so much effort. Nope, I don’t. I miss home-food though.
In fact, when I go home to Pretoria, I ask my mom to cook for me and then I bring food back, so when I do come back from home that’s the exception for when my fridge is stocked-full of cooked food.
Doesn’t it go off?
No, I freeze it. The power of freezing and portioning, hey. Every time I cook, I freeze stuff.
Do you ever skip breakfast?
I try not to because I am usually starving in the morning. Mostly, I skip lunch, but I will never skip dinner.
What do you spend most of your money on?
My teas and my cool-drinks because I have different types of tea.
And have you changed since you first moved into digs?
I do try to add a lot of vegetables to my diet, because I don’t cook meats or fish or anything like that. That’s partly out of choice, and partly because I don’t know how to cook meats and fish. I also try to balance out my soda-drinking habits by drinking water, whether that’s hot or cold. I consciously think about my eating-habits now.
I am surrounded by friends who cook, so peer-pressure makes me reflect on my bad eating-habits.
Do you think there’s a big difference between people living together and someone living alone?
Definitely. I do think that cooking is a communal activity. The joy of cooking comes from a communal atmosphere. That’s why, when I go home, it’s nice to eat home-food because I know I am not eating it by myself; I am eating it with my mum, nephews, and sister. We all eat together. It’s a social event.
I’m not saying I would cook a five-course meal if I was in a digs with other people, but I would definitely put more effort into cooking regularly.
Do you think it’s more expensive living alone?
Yes, you buy things and because you are alone you are, on the most part, unable to finish them, so you have to throw them away. I don’t buy loaves of bread, I buy buns. Even the smallest recipes are for two. Sometimes you end up having to throw away some of your food even if you do freeze it, and some food you really can’t freeze. I buy frozen veggies like peas so they don’t go off.
Do you ever get sick from your eating-habits?
No, but I do get tired in the sense that I know that I am not eating properly, and I feel like falling asleep. I am no doctor, but I know that is possibly because I don’t eat properly. I don’t get all the food groups that I should be getting. That’s when I try to fill up with veggies. My advice is, condition yourself to cook because when you get into a certain routine it’s really difficult to change your habits.
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