Surviving Summer: Eat Something

Welcome back to our series on surviving summer on the low or no income of a humanities graduate student. A lot of our previous posts have focused on food (here, here, and here). This probably isn’t surprising. You need to eat. I need to eat. We all need to eat. When we’re looking at cutting costs in a budget where all luxuries have been cut out long-ago we start trying to cut food costs. We can’t do much to change our rent or mortgage. We can try and cut utilities but food is our most constant cost and the one we are in the most control of.

The following is my Number 1 tip to grad students over the summer:

USE YOUR LOCAL FOOD PANTRIES.

Seriously.

Use them.

Find out where they are, when they are, and what you need to bring with you then go and get food.

I am passionate about this subject because during my PhD I helped establish a campus food pantry. I was a co-advisor to a group of students who was establishing the food pantry and, as the only grad student on the team, I was tasked with reaching out to graduate students to get them to use the food pantry.

All of the graduate students I reached out to said the same thing: I don’t want to use the food pantry because I don’t want to take food away from someone who needs it more. 

This view is a misunderstanding of how food pantries actually work.

This idea, that if you take food from a food pantry there will be less food for someone else, is based on the belief that food pantries are like pie: there is a finite amount of pie/pantry and if you take some then there is less pie/pantry for other people.

Food pantries don’t operate like pie. They operate like creativity. In the words of Dr. Angelou, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” 

The more you use a food pantry the more money that pantry is eligible to request in add from corporations or grants. The more aid they receive, the more food they can buy. The more food they have, the more people they can serve.

In actuality, the more you use a food pantry the more food they have. It is the exact opposite of pie. cake-food-fork-890574

Many colleges and universities have opened their own food pantries to server their students (this is the type of pantry I was a part of). These pantries are often open over the summer but see a sharp drop in clients because graduate students don’t want to use them and most undergraduates are gone.

This is particularly frustrating because a lot of charitable organizations give fresh food and vegetables over the summer and if no one comes to pick those perishable items up they go bad and get thrown out. This is particularly frustrating to those of us who have to cart the boxes of now-bad vegetables and fruits to the trash bin.

Please fight food waste and use your local food pantries.

Some of you may be wondering why I’ve used “pantries”, plural, throughout this post.

That’s because different food pantries specialize in different things. Many campus food pantries specialize in non-perishable items: Peanut butter, pancake mix, mac and cheese, canned veggies, ramen, tuna, and so on.

In contrast, community food pantries often have a broader selection that can include fresh eggs, meat, and dairy that needs to be used shortly after it’s donated.

Before you go to the pantry you’ll want to check them out online. Questions to ask are:

  1. What days are they open?
  2. What hours?
  3. Do they serve different populations or different food stuffs on different days?
  4. Do I need to bring my own bags?
  5. Do I need to bring anything with me? (Many food pantries operate on an honor system requiring you only to show up–some campus food pantries ask you to show a campus ID. This just helps the pantries compile the numbers for how many people they are serving which helps them apply for grants and things).

If you want to find out if your campus has a food pantry check out this map from the Colleges & Universities Food Bank Alliance. This map isn’t exhaustive. For instance, my current campus has a food pantry that is not on this list–but it can be a good place to start. If you don’t see your campus listed on this map you might want to check your campus website or email someone in student services. I know as grad students we often don’t interact with student services as they are more geared at undergraduates but they’ve got the hook-up on a lot of good stuff.

In conclusion, please, please, PLEASE, use your local food pantries over the summer to make your food budget more manageable and to help increase their ability to serve your community.

Surviving Summer: Grow Things

Let me start with something we all know to be true: Graduate students in the humanities are not paid well.

While everyone who has ever talked to a graduate student in the humanities knows that this is true finding the data to back this up is incredibly difficult for a lot of reasons. To get a qualitative sense of how little humanities students are paid check out the comments on this unbearable piece from Chronicle Vitae.

While not paid well at the best of times, many graduate students aren’t paid at all over the summer. Summers in grad school can be hard to survive leaving PhD students with a range of options from ok to awful. I was always very lucky in that I could count on family support in a real pinch. Many people don’t have this option. Some PhD students take out student loans to cover the summer. Still other students take summer jobs to make ends meet. However, these summer jobs often cut into critical research and writing time extending one’s overall time in grad school.

In this series, I’m going to focus on the things that helped make summers as a PhD student better. I had a lot of privileges as a PhD student (I’m white, I’m cis, I was able to buy a house and I had recourse to some family financial support for starters). While I can share a few limited tips I would be grateful to readers who contribute their own tips in the comments!

Finally, I’ll posting a summer survival tip the day after I post something in our ongoing series about abusive advisors. Let’s begin!

Summer Survival Tip 1: Grow Something

Grow whatever you can. Maybe you have the money to invest in a raised bed (if you live near an Aldi they sell a great raised bed kit for $40). Maybe you can put a few containers on your apartment balcony. Maybe you can put a basil plant in a window.

Whatever you can grow, grow it.

It will make a huge difference to your quality of life over the summer. In the beginning of August, when you haven’t been paid in a month or two and you’re living on ramen adding a little fresh basil in there will make your life feel better.

Community gardens have gotten increasingly popular so if you don’t have the space or resources to grow something yourself check the internet to see what churches or community centers have gardens where you can put in a little bit of work to get some fresh produce. No one wants that grad school scurvy.

The town I did my PhD in usually planted edible plants in the decorative planters around downtown. In the middle of summer they would have these huge kale plants and you could steal a few leaves as long as you didn’t decimate one plant–you gotta hit up different planters for your salad. I mean it’s kale, but desperate times and all that.

I’ll just end with this tidbit–all parts of a dandelion are edible and those things are everywhere. Just make sure you wash it thoroughly if you get it from someone else’s property since you don’t know what chemicals they used in their lawn or if their dog peed on it yesterday.