Saturday, April 4, 2020
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How an Online Meal Service Taught Me I am in Fact, a Child

by Lilly Ball

When I first came to UCI, I quickly realized that my freshman year was to be riddled with obstacles, many of them brought on by the fact that I didn’t know a thing about cooking, beyond how to boil water. By the time winter quarter rolled around, my body had become so used to surviving off un-toasted bagels and granola bars that eating a full meal just seemed like a tedious, unnecessary luxury. I had missed out on the freshman dorm experience, unlimited meal plan and all, by living in an apartment off campus. For the first time, I was tasked with feeding myself, a skill I had never quite acquired thanks to my lovely mother. I made a few attempts in the beginning, but eventually my laziness, inability to properly grocery shop, and overall complete lack of self control led to many late night macaroni and cheese dinners. I was crazed, probably dehydrated, and far too tired of my Pinterest taunting me with recipes. The madness had to stop.

After coming across various ads for meal plan services such as Blue Apron, Freshly, and HelloFresh, I did a bit of research (which mainly consisted of paid promotional articles) and settled on the latter. HelloFresh’s website was so inviting, promising customized weekly menus of recipes “curated by chefs,” and fresh ingredients delivered right to my doorstep. All I had to do was cook. Embarrassed as I am to admit this, I was very excited. I shared the news with all my friends as if I had made some life-changing decision that would catapult me into adulthood, a status which involved cooking and eating regularly, for only $9.99 per meal.

Out of the three meal options offered by the service (classic, vegetarian, and family), I went with classic — a mix of protein, vegetables, and grains. Unfortunately, HelloFresh only offers 2 or 4-person serving sizes, leaving me with no other option but to pay about twice the promised “$9.99 per meal.” I decided to not let this dampen my excitement, as I would only be receiving 3 meals a week, and could eat the second portion on days I don’t cook. I chose Monday as my delivery day, and about a week after placing my order, my first box arrived and revealed my first trial.

Each HelloFresh box is huge, as if it could be concealing a small child or a television, and is heavier than anticipated. Despite this, each is packaged very stylishly, displaying some motivational saying in white print, varying each week.

Inside, ingredients are neatly packaged in smaller boxes, separated by recipe and nicely labeled. Meats and perishable items are at the bottom of the box, hidden under layers of ice packs (the reason why the box is so heavy) to keep frozen. I decided to jump right in, enthusiastically following each step on the pretty instruction card, feeling more and more adult with each new vegetable I discovered. Who knew scallions were a thing? Alas, my joy wore away as the recipes began asking me to do strange things such as “zest” a lime, as if I, a college student, owned a grater. Later on that week, I was told to use a meat tenderizer, and then was forced to pickle  radishes, which was very mean of them.

I am now a month or so into my cooking adventure, and the majority of what I have learned about myself was discovered within the span of that first week. Apparently, cooking requires many pans and cooking utensils that I do not own, the majority of which I had to borrow from my roommates. Also, washing dishes is very hard. These complaints are very trivial, I know, but I found myself putting off cooking my meals because I was too lazy to deal with them, leaving me to put them together at weird hours of the night just so the ingredients wouldn’t go bad, as I had let the meals pile up. And, as sad as this sounds, cooking a full meal, sides and all, then sitting on my living room floor to eat it just feels like I’m lying to myself in the saddest game of “house” ever.

Admittedly, many of my gripes with my HelloFresh service involve the fact that I, a 19-year-old college student, am just not ready to chop pistachios and sauté snow peas after I come home from a long day of classes. The meals are lovely, and are of much higher quality than what I had previously been consuming, but after cooking and washing all the dishes I was forced to utilize, I find myself needing a nap (and missing my mom). HelloFresh is lovely, and I an undeserving customer, but be warned before you order — feeding yourself is hard.