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When I go home for the Thanksgiving holiday, I’ll be on poultry duty. My family has charged me with turning a big frozen bird carcass into a deliciously delectable entree by Thursday. Am I prepared? Overly.

A few friends of mine have voiced their terror of cooking. They’ve had their mothers and grandmothers prepare food for them their entire lives. But what happens when they leave college and are out on their own? How will they be able to live?

Granted, takeout is always available. Restaurants are always happy to cater to whatever flavorful fix you ask them to. Some even stay open until ungodly hours.

But cooking at home saves money and is generally healthier (depending on how closely one follows a Paula Deen recipe). The trick is to know how to do it.

It’s important to know how to prepare food, but our busy schedules may steer us away from this option. Grabbing a Nutri-Grain bar for breakfast is never more appealing than in the five minutes before you leave for a morning class.

When we do grab that quick prepackaged breakfast, we’re giving in to the food companies; we’re letting them cook for us.

With my family, immediate and extended, I advocate a return to the basics. Cooking for yourself is enjoyable, cheaper, healthier and much more satisfying than takeout from the Chinese place.

My grandfather has kept a small garden in his backyard for as long as I’ve been alive. He always has fresh Roma tomatoes, jalapeños and bell peppers ready at the end of summer. They go straight from the garden to the stove.

And as with my grandfather’s garden, the fresh parts of the meal really make up for the parts that you do buy from the grocer.

My family and I don’t grow our own grain for fresh pasta nor do we slaughter a chicken every morning, but adding fresh vegetables really makes a meal taste exponentially better.

But you can’t grow a garden in your dorm room, nor can you cook to your full potential.

That is why I encourage you to practice your culinary techniques when you return home for Thanksgiving. This Wednesday, help your family out by preparing a dish that can be made in advance — perhaps the turkey’s dressing or a dessert. Your mother will love you for it, and you get to gloat at the family dinner table as you practice for life outside of campus living.

You’ll discover some humbling qualities when you cook. You’ll find that, in your infallibility of being a Carolina student, that you can, remarkably, make mistakes. You’ll find that, no matter how many times you make a recipe, you can still mess it up. Arrogance breeds error, and that is no more apparent than when some sauce isn’t homogenous or some tenderloin goes dry.

Learn from your mistakes, in the kitchen and in life, and you’ll figure out how to do it right the next time. At the dinner table, a positive result is much more gratifying: It tastes good. In life, results aren’t as starkly divided: flavorful or bland, black or white, good or bad — those distinctions aren’t as apparent in life as they are in the kitchen.

So cook a meal with your family this Thanksgiving. Don’t forget to gloat about your culinary contribution during Thursday night dinner, don’t forget the dessert, and don’t forget to clean up. Your mother will be proud.

Justin Chandler Wilcox is a sophomore philosophy major from Hickory. Contact Justin at

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