Thesis Eating: Procrastination Alimentation

Four a.m. rolls around, and it’s finally time to write that thesis—or at least that thesis title. After sitting down at your computer, you open a blank document and carefully set down your pithy words. You stare at the screen for a while, only slightly distracted by imaginings of deep-fried foods and ice cream. You center a colon on the page but suddenly your eyes alight upon a web ad for a board game: Candyland. You see an article about the latest possibility for a Yard Fest performer: Jimmy Eat World. No more distractions. You type out your title. Despite exhaustion, the standard punctuation easily flows out as you make sure your unique thesis appellation conforms to the format of approximately 99 percent of Harvard thesis titles.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if the grill were open?”: Starvation, Popcorn Chicken, and the Fantasy of Food in “A Moveable Feast” and Francis Bacon. Mmmm. Bacon.

Not quite. Particularly since your thesis was supposed to be about generational conflict and Indian politics. Speaking of which: Mmmmmm. Indian food.

Food, or the lack thereof, can be a distracting force from work, especially during the harrowing weeks before thesis deadlines. It’s getting to the point when many seniors wish they could take their meals in pill form for optimal efficiency, but when used properly, food can be a reminder of the cultivated life you once led and the rich existence that awaits after your thesis, as well as a source of energy to help you reach the works cited page.

We aren’t particularly concerned with nutrition, but even we have to admit that some foods will sustain you better than others. Obviously dinner at Harvard is laughably early, and any respectable thesis warrior will need at least one more meal as they battle late into the night. Remember to assemble a collection of energy-rich snacks before you leave the dining hall. Yogurt is filling, requires minimal energy to consume, and with its particular flavors and texture can either be a second dessert that happens to come five hours after your dinner—or the first component of the breakfast you’ll eat in four hours.

While few Harvard students identify as “crunchy granola,” the dining hall’s mix of grains and raisins can help to sustain you throughout the final thesis crunch. Mixed into yogurt, it will provide some carbohydrates without giving you the kind of sugar rush that will lead you to finally write 20 pages in one hour—only to discover that none of the pages are composed of words.

While sucrose highs might make your thesis loopy, snacks can be an important part of the motivation process. On the rare occasion you leave your room (probably to turn in a draft), stop by Cardullo’s and pick up a sumptuous, overpriced foreign delicacy. It’s not like you’re spending your money on nights out drinking anymore, and brie and camembert taste even better amidst the scattered plastic ruins of a take-out meal from the Kong.

(A word on the Kong. If you must indulge, do so with Nalgene after Nalgene of water, or else your salt consumption might render you incapable of typing due to massively bloated, swollen fingers. Even if you don’t indulge in the Kong, it is important to remain well hydrated. And for those times that you need to take the edge off your prose, remember: beer is mostly water, too.)

Finally, no matter how many snack-filled paper cups are sitting next to the Widener books on your floor, it is important to remember that Life cereal does not equal life. So use nature’s built-in thesis break to leave your room, go to the dining hall, and encounter actual people (who aren’t your thesis adviser). Try to leave the length of your meal open-ended to allow for stimulating conversation. If a friend asks, “How’s it going?” an appropriate response is not “Ugh. Thesis.” But because we know that it can be hard to escape the extremely specialized field of intellectual inquiry that has plagued your mind for over nine months, here are several topics and talking points that can be summoned at any meal. You might recognize them as things you used to discuss:

1)Politics. The battle to the end between Change and Ready for Change. Texas. Ohio. Did you know it is really close? Superdelegates! By the way, Bush administration. Odd.

2)Pop culture. Have you seen the latest movie? I haven’t because of my...(trail off). Britney Spears? Concerts to attend. Did you know people are still attending events like these?

3)Post-thesis life: Department celebrations. Going to be awesome! Spring break! After college? Time for a whole new round of anxiety that can only be alleviated by eating.

4)Eating. When all else fails, the latest Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) creation is the ultimate small talk. Noodle station? Nice bowls. Ranger cookies! Often too crunchy, often too soft, but make you feel like you are going on an expedition into the forest. Popcorn chicken. What you wanted when you started this column. Go ahead, indulge in a few, er, kernels?

If, after entering civilization in the dining hall, you can’t bring yourself to return to your poorly ventilated, book-filled room, take your computer down to the dining hall. It can sometimes seem like a depressing, angst-filled ghost town after the HUDS workers leave and only the thesis writers and their leftovers remain, but there is nothing like being the first person in line at brain break to get the freshest day-old bagels, the first person in line to get eggs from the grille in the morning, and the first person to swipe into lunch.

—Columnists Aliza H. Aufrichtig and Marianne F. Kaletzky can be reached at and


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