Friday, August 8, 2014

Those Dining Hall Days

It was rumored that my college paid for the same grade of food as the prisons in the area.” We fondly remember our dining hall days...

Illustration © Jude Buffum, excerpted from Ultimate Dining Hall Hacks
Between Ultimate Dining Hall Hacks, Priya Krishna’s book on eating creatively on a meal plan, and a recent article about gourmet dining options available at some institutions of higher learning, it’s hard not to think about our own college food experiences. While we weren’t lacking in ingenuity at school mealtime, it seems we all might have benefitted from Priya’s vision. Here are some of our memories, complete with our own hacks, mystery meat, and a science lesson or two. What do you remember about school food?

Ilona Sherrat: I went to a two-year private college and then transferred to State U. The food at the first school was great. At the second school employees could be seen taking large cuts of meat out the back door of the dining hall and into their waiting cars. We were fed A LOT of casseroles!

Regina Velazquez: I lived at home and commuted to college, so my “meal plan” was usually a packed lunch. One day, some friends invited me to have lunch with them in their dorm's cafeteria. I wasn't impressed until a couple of guys showed me how they liked to make their own milkshakes. They would fill a glass with equal parts soft-serve vanilla ice cream, milk, and peanut butter, top it with a few squirts of chocolate syrup, and blend. In retrospect, it's probably a good thing I didn't stay in a dorm!

Matt LaBombard: I was once completely overtired from schoolwork and forgot that metal conducts electricity. So when I saw my bagel burning in one of the toasters in the dining hall, I used my fork to move it off of the hot coils. I accidentally went a little too far with my fork and hit the coils, causing an explosion of sparks. The kid next to me yelled that I had “singed his eyebrows off!” I instantly pulled up the hood on my sweatshirt, grabbed my bagel, and ran to the corner of the cafeteria without ever looking to see if the kid’s eyebrows really were gone — I couldn’t get out of the cafeteria fast enough! I proceeded to eat my metallic-tasting bagel all alone. Needless to say, I’ve learned my lesson about conduction.

Sarah Guare: The food at my college was supplied and managed by Sodexho Marriott (this was just before the local food movement really took off; the college has since changed its supplier). Sodexho offers different grades of food based on quality and type, and it was rumored that my college paid for the same grade of food as the prisons in the area. I can still, unfortunately, remember the taste of my first dish of polenta — cut open from a plastic tube and lightly steamed. It was gelatinous and tasted slightly antiseptic and bitter.  Mostly, the food was overcooked, bland, and fatty. I often ate cereal for dinner and was the only one of my high school friends to lose 10 pounds my freshman year.

Lisa Hiley: There was no hacking in the Mount Holyoke dining hall back in my day because there was no central dining space. Each dorm had its own dining room, where we went down to a buffet breakfast (not infrequently in our pj’s) and were served family-style dinners by student waitresses. Thirty years later, the dining rooms have been converted into computer labs and the students eat at a central dining hall in the massively renovated student center. But they’ll never do away with “M&Cs,” the tradition of offering milk and cookies — though not literally, anymore — in the dorms at 9:30 every night as a study break. That is on pretty much every alumna’s list of favorite MHC memories.

Hannah Fries: My alma mater, Dartmouth, is the same as Priya’s, and if we’d been there at the same time, I’m sure I would have appreciated her column in the school newspaper!  For a couple of terms, I lived off-campus at the Dartmouth Organic Farm, so some of the best dining-hall moments were when the farm produce actually found its way to one of the smaller (and fresher) dining facilities, the Collis Cafe. I hear the farm is thriving these days, so I hope even more fresh produce is finding its way to students’ plates in the summer and fall!

Gwen Steege: Freshman year in the girls’ dorm at Dickinson College is especially vivid: it was mandatory to wear skirts to dinner, where we sat at cloth-covered tables and were served family-style by white-jacketed, all-male waiters. (And, yes, it was “freshman” not “first year,” and “girls” not “women.”) In case dinner wasn’t enough, we could look forward to the “sandwich man,” who arrived at 10:00 with snacks like peanut-butter-and-jelly and egg-salad sandwiches, a fund-raising enterprise by one of the fraternities.

Caroline Burch: I went to Connecticut College in the early ’70s, and almost every dorm had its own dining room then, except the six-dorm Complex, where students ate in the communal Refectory. One of our benefactors founded the Sara Lee Corporation, so we could always count on an unending supply of pound cakes. Every so often we were served what we called Mystery Meat; to this day we have no idea what animal it came from as it was cleverly disguised in a brown Mystery Sauce. My favorite lunch was grilled cheese sandwiches, piled high and gooey in aluminum trays. When the server grabbed one with tongs, three or four came with it. I loved trying figure out which fused part belonged to which sandwich. No salad bars, no grill stations, no vegan offerings, no gluten free, but I managed to graduate with the same weight as when I matriculated.

Emily Spiegelman: College is full of food memories for me, few of them pleasant: plaki night, anything involving meat, and the time I stood at the salad bar and realized that the cubes of raw tofu I’d added to my plate were uncomfortably similar in texture to the sheep brain we’d just dissected in psychology lab. Fortunately, I had friends whose fearlessness made meals into something of a spectator sport — like the two guys who would pick a letter of the alphabet and pile their plates high with (and valiantly eat) every food item they could find in the dining hall beginning with that letter, condiments included. No wacky combination was off limits and “P” night was always interesting. They may be the only people I knew who actually ingested the dreaded plaki.

Zan Davies: I recall going into the dining hall after early morning swim practices and loading up my tray with all kinds of things — bagels, cereal, bacon by the ton, a couple of different juices, maybe some fruit and whatever prepared dish they were offering. We didn't have the fancy fixings dining halls have today and carbs were still considered an excellent way to start the day, especially if you were starting out a couple thousand calories in the hole. My own dining hall hack was to take a Heath Bar Crunch ice cream bar and load it up with peanut butter. Yes, I ate chocolate in those days.
Know someone headed off to college in the fall? Enter our Food for Thought Giveaway this month for a chance to win $100 worth of kitchen basics any student will love: a personal blender, a panini press, and a collection of Storey books perfect for dorm or apartment cooking!

No comments: