I remember being younger and hearing horror stories about college: students surviving off ramen, the kleptomaniac roommate, bouncing hot dogs, the nymphomaniac roommate, mystery meat, beer and Dubra diets, the freshman fifteen, the freshman fifteen roommate. Actually, most of them were definitely food-related. Particularly the roommate who steals your food is seriously the worst.
After coming to Yale, I was relieved to find that while ramen is kindly offered at Durfee’s, it rarely appears more than once in a day. As far as I’ve witnessed, the hot dogs (or bratwursts, or sausages or schnitzels) do not bounce, and anyway, they’re made from organic meat. I walk into the dining halls on any given day to “Griddled Polenta with Mushrooms and Spinach,” “Sardinian Baked Eggplant,” “Gnocchi with Sundried Tomatoes and Parmesan,” or “Sweet Potato Quinoa Burgers with Pecans.”
Admittedly, I’m never too certain about labels containing more than four words, but there’s always a pretty decent bet it’s going to be good (even if it doesn’t resemble what it intends to). Sometimes the peanut butter (have you noticed how it’s organic?) is the safest bet, but more often than not I end up eating three-course lunches because I can’t decide between the sundry options.
The thing that really gets me is those people who walk into a dining hall (let’s say, Branford), scan the offerings and immediately declare, “Man, there is literally nothing to eat today.” I admit I have been known on occasion to do this.
Girl, is there really nothing to eat? Literally nothing to eat, you say? I’m pretty sure there’s some cereal right over there, next to the salad bar, next to the deli bar, next to the soup selection, next to the PB&J, next to those things for vegans, next to the yogurt that’s next to the three types of sugar-soaked baked goods.
And if there really, truly, is nothing to eat, have you seen the number of squirrels in the courtyard? You don’t have to be Katniss to catch one of those and roast him up for dinner. Don’t you keep telling me there’s nothing to eat. Some of those squirrels are looking pretty rotund in the rump.
“Nobody ever heard of a vegetarian when I was in college,” Don Robinson ’58, a family friend of mine, told me the other week. He remembered washing dishes and refilling the milk machine far more than the food itself.
He did recall a few things, though: “You didn’t have restrictive diets; I don’t know what a kid trying to eat kosher would have done. There weren’t vegetarian diets, much less vegan and stuff like that.”
When Robinson visited his children at Yale in the ’80s, “stuff like that” was slowly starting to appear. Still, “It was not good, I can tell you that,” said Ann Phillips ’77, the mother of my friend from high school. “The eggplant parmesan – horrible. Just really basic cafeteria food. It’s possible there were salads … there wasn’t, like, a salad bar thing. There were maybe two choices: you could get either A or B. I just remember a lot of other horrible memories of Commons – it was so scary.” Phillips quickly moved to a big house off campus where she and her 12 housemates took turns at cooking.
Granted, the ’80s did see a shift away from saturated fats and fried foods towards leafier comestibles. Just this year, Yale’s new executive chef, added two vegetarian options to each meal period every day. The daily menus are “pretty much up to him,” said to Jeff D’Amico, chief Branford chef and a longtime foodie educated at the Culinary Institute of America. Branford’s head chefs aren’t particularly enthused about it. Not enough protein, they say.
“The choice, the selection, it isn’t always the best,” he said, “but we don’t make the choices.” D’Amico did point out that the kitchens are cooking to order more than ever, rather than way in advance.
But at the end of the day, food is food. Branford’s Master Bradley, who subsisted on granola, yogurt and peanut butter during her college days (“you could not spoil those”), pointed out that the dining halls often bear the brunt of our complaints just because we all like to have something to complain about.
But lately, with goat cheese, fried plantains and honey-glazed salmon, Branford hasn’t offered much to complain about. We Yalies of the current decade can be satisfied knowing that we are being fed more or less like royalty.
Enjoy your “Vegetable Cassoulet with Pecan Crust.” Whatever that is.
Tao Tao Holmes is a junior in Branford College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.