We’ve all had those days where we don’t want to eat at another dining hall, but we also don’t want to spend real money on food. Is it possible to avoid that dilemma altogether? This week, I tried to find out in the only way I knew possible: challenging myself to only eating free food for 48 hours. 

Before taking on this challenge, I had to do some serious research. By research, I mean scrolling down endless pages of my “Events” feed on Facebook, messaging random groups if they knew about any free food opportunities, and going through my email for events being advertised. I also joined the “Free Food at Penn” Facebook group, but it proved to be more like “Leftovers at Penn.” I lined up all the places I planned to go to for the two days with the most events going on: Monday, September 25 and Wednesday, September 27.

Day 1: 

Breakfast: Stealing your roommate's Nature Valley bar for breakfast does count as free food. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

Lunch: After my 12 p.m. class I went to the Bodek Lounge for the Penn Leads Voter Registration Kickoff, which was going on from 1-4 p.m. Walking in, I was immediately impressed. Right in front of my eyes were three tables filled with salads from Greek Lady, sandwiches, Insomnia cookies, and food plates from Fresh Grocer. This was the real deal. Thank God, because I was starving. This food had to last me until 5 p.m. Did I take three Insomnia cookies and an extra plate of pita bread? I did. 

Photo: Teresa Xie

Dinner: From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. there was a study break in the Hall of Flags sponsored by the College’s peer advising program. I went around 5:30 with a friend to find two tables stacked with coffee and doughnuts. I was definitely not in the mood for doughnuts, but I really didn’t have anything else to eat until 7:30. I wolfed down a chocolate sprinkles doughnut with a cup of much–needed coffee. 

Hopefully, the Philosophy Politics and Economics GBM at 7:30 would have some snacks at least. But when it rolled around, I found out to my great disappointment that all I had to satisfy my hunger were even more doughnuts. A girl can only eat so many doughnuts in a day, but what else was I supposed to do?

To wake up my body from the aftermath of eating three donuts in a span of three hours, I took a break the next day to eat real food. After that first day, I also needed to prepare myself mentally for doing day two of this challenge tomorrow. Dining hall food never tasted so good. 

Photo: Teresa Xie

Day 2:

Breakfast: I thought day one was rough, but nothing could prepare me for day two. My first event wasn’t until the late afternoon so I ended up living off of saltine crackers and granola bars until that point. 

Lunch: I saw on Facebook that the Philomathean Society was hosting Thursday Tea with Professor Justin McDaniel. The tea talk was held on the 4th floor of College Hall (which I didn’t even know existed) in Philo's Harrison Presidential Library. When I showed up, I was pleasantly surprised. There was a nice array of biscuits, fruit, chocolate pretzels, and of course, hot tea. I’m pretty sure the Philomathean Society had never seen a tea plate with snacks piled as high as mine. I ended up staying for most of the event and had a great time. 

Photo: Teresa Xie

Dinner: At 6 p.m. I went to the PAVE Active Bystander Dinner, which I had gotten a bunch of emails for throughout the week. They had actual catering from Goldie, which included pita bread, hummus, and falafel. The portions were super generous and I was genuinely looking forward to eating a dinner that wasn’t donuts. 

My final event for the day was The People vs. the Supreme Court : A Polybian Society Symposium. I found out about it on Facebook, but also because one of my friends heard the symposiums were fun. There they had tables full of pretzels, chips, guacamole, Oreos, and hummus waiting for us. Not only did we get free food, but also had the chance to listen to a really well–rounded political discussion about the Supreme Court.

Final thoughts: 

Would I survive 48 hours on free food at Penn again? Definitely not. Would I go back to one of these events for a free meal again? Absolutely. If it weren't for this challenge, I would never have gone to some great events that not only fulfilled my hunger pangs but also my intellectual cravings. Most of these events are open to anyone—take advantage of the many clubs and gatherings that Penn has to offer while also relishing the fact that you're not spending a cent on dinner.