Surviving the Perils of a College Dining Hall

College dining halls. A peril only to be faced by the most daring of warriors. Or by unsuspecting freshman… Either way, it is quite the force to be reckoned with. These buildings house our main source or nourishment for our four years (or more) at school, so they must be approached cautiously. One can not make enemies with their dining halls, yet the relationship is not quite one of pure amiability. In this post wish to provide my fellow scholars with a practical guide to braving mass produced sustenance based on my experiences in the past four years. My first year of college I was housed nearest to the most daunting of the dining halls in my university. It had a reputation for foul food that only the honors and arts students could stomach. This hall was located in the most remote corner of campus and only those who had classes or lived nearby dared to enter. Throughout the rest of my years I ventured farther out to the other halls but found them to be just as formidable in their own way. Each had it’s own ups and downs and although I opted for take out whenever possible, when my bank account ran dry I was forced to again turn to the halls. And so I provide some valuable tips for surviving your undergraduate eating career.

1. Become allies with the gatekeeper. The little old ladies who swipe you into the dining hall are the key to finding edible food. If you are nice to them they will help you, but if you are frigid to them your path will be ever so more arduous. Give her (or him if the case may be) a nice smile and “how do you do” whenever you come in and they swipe your ID. If there is no line have a short friendly conversation. These lovely retired ladies (or gentlemen) may be lonely guarding the entrance all by themselves, make friends with them and they will give you valuable tips about the food that day.

2. Be prepared. Check the dining hall menus online ahead of time when possible and avoid food you know to be horrid. Do not let the gourmet names fool you. Food from a dining hall is food from a dining hall. Although Black and Bleu Cube Steak sounds enticing…. well I’ll get to that in a bit.

3. Avoid ethnic food. Nothing at all against ethnic foods (eg. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese) but when it is cooked by dining hall chefs on a mass scale, it doesn’t taste like what you get at a restaurant. Occasionally its tasty but most of the time…. it’s not.

4. Eat Kosher or Halal. Even if you are not a Jew or Muslim, the Kosher and Halal food at college campuses is usually cooked on a smaller scale. And since religious guidelines are so strict, the quality of the food is almost always drastically better. At my school the Kosher food is delicious and nutritious more often than not. Unfortunately our Kosher/ Halal kitchen is in a far corner of campus that I rarely journey to and so I am still subject to the regular food.

5. Check your meat before you eat it! This was a lesson I only just learned today. I was served my Black and Bleu Cube Steak and it looked wonderful but when I cut it open I saw that it was not cooked at all on the inside. This was rarer than rare and totally against health codes…. Were they trying to poison us? Maybe, maybe not but inspect your meat before you eat it.

6. Build up an appetite for pizza, salad, sandwiches and cereal. If there is nothing appetizing on the hot line there is almost always cold foods available that are hard to screw up. I know there have been some weeks where I live on salad, subs, pizza, and pasta from the dining halls. Also, I keep (mostly) kosher, so when there is only main dishes with pork I don’t really have a lot of choices.

7. Use the suggestion box. At my school the dining hall suggestion box is really popular. We ask for things we want more of and let them know when something is really awful. Sometimes a couple of comedic cards get in there too so they are fun to read. From my experience, the managers usually take most of the suggestions into account so you might as well take advantage of them. Can’t complain if you haven’t spoken up! (I have put quite a few of those cards in over my four years)

8. Attack your meals in pairs or groups. Generally it’s more enjoyable to go to dinner with friends. Especially so you can bitch about the food and let each other know what’s good and what’s not. One of the best parts of the dining hall experience (and believe me, there are not many) is getting to relax at meals with your friends and have a nice time. Put aside time for your meals when you can and spend them with good friends. The food is not quite so bad if there is laughter involved.

9. Pick a college that has good food. This is for any pre-college students who may be reading this. You’re going to be eating the food for a long time, make sure you try out a dining hall at each school you visit. It’s a good way to get a feel for the atmosphere of the student body and test out the food. Hey, food is pretty important, so if two colleges are pretty even and you can’t decide, make food your deciding factor.

10. Condiments. Nothing like some ketchup or BBQ sauce to add some flavor to really bland food. Get creative.  🙂

That’s all I have for now, but I hope it helps. Some of what I have written is specific to my school but most of it applies universally. Even though you may be discouraged after a few weeks of dining hall food, keep on trucking. Winter and summer breaks are a nice time to refresh your pallet and eat everything that is not delicious or available at school. Keep some snacks in your room too and most importantly, stock up on Ramen and Easy Mac. There’s a funny thing about the freshman fifteen. I have noticed that some people gain it and some people lose it. It all depends on your balance of eating and exercise.

Then again, maybe it just depends on the dining hall and your survival techniques…..

10 Ways to Get Rid of an Annoying Roommate

Whether it’s your freshman year or your senior year roommates are a touchy ground. Over the course of my college career I have had six different roommates over three years. My junior year I was fortunate enough to get a single. Most freshman in college start out with a random roommate. I remember eagerly awaiting my assignment, ready to instantly friend her on Facebook and find out what sort of person she was. Would she be a quiet nerd like me who would become my best friend who I would spend the next 4 years living with? Would she be a wild party girl who would instantly join a sorority? Would I end up with someone with awful hygiene who went through my things when I was in class? I had no idea, but I was excited nonetheless. Worst case scenario I could change rooms.

After an entire summer of waiting I received my assignment and my future roommate and I talked lots in the few days before we were to move in. She and I were total opposites but we got along great and things were going well. However, she decided to move across the hall about a month into the semester to live with her friends and I had a brief hiatus from sharing my room. My next roommate was probably my favorite. Let’s call her Alisha. She was quirky and nerdy just like me and we roomed together for the rest of freshman year as well as most of sophomore year. But Alisha never stayed satisfied doing anything for long. Before the first semester of our second year even finished, she decided she had had enough of school and moved across the country to California. This left me again roommateless. With only a month left of the semester, reslife assigned me a new roommate who was similar to my first. She was a really wonderful and nice girl but the polar opposite of me. While I liked to stay in and read or watch tv, Kate was a sorority girl who studied hard and partied harder. We got along great but at the end of the semester she too moved to another room to live with friends. That brings us to my least favorite roommate. Let’s call her Elsa. Elsa was a first semester student from a wealthy family in Africa. At first she seemed sweet and I took her under my wing. A few weeks into living with her and her true colors came out. She was ignorant, annoying and lying came way too easy to her. But I roughed it out and lived with her for a whole semester. After that I had my share of roommates and chose a single for my Junior year.

That summer I took summer classes and roomed with a good friend. Not really much to say about that. We made perfect roommates more or less. Sometimes we would chat and do things together and sometimes we just gave each other our space. Anyways, that brings me to my senior year roommate who I won’t go into a great deal about because I’m living with her now. My current roommate we will call Marge. She and I have been best friends since 5th grade and it was probably a bad idea to room with her. But I couldn’t get into a single again and the last thing I wanted was to have a random roommate for my senior year. So we roomed together and for the first semester she lived with her boyfriend but here we are back in school and she is living in the room with me.

I don’t have any problem with her in particular, it’s just that it’s hard to live with someone at this point. I think I’m over the whole “dorm experience”. Most seniors live in apartments but I wanted to be close to my classes, and living on campus is as close as you can get. But living with people when I’m stressed out beyond belief with work, senior projects, and 4000 level classes oftentimes brings me to my snapping point. Hence my outrageous plan to passive aggressively shoo my roommate away. Because clearly it would be less fun and involve a lot more maturity to talk this out with her. Nah, I like this plan better. Feel free to adapt these tips for your own use if you have a pesky roommate you need to get rid of.

Disclaimer: I do not endorse any of these methods, they are merely some ideas I had for comic relief when my roommate drives me crazy.

1. Gas him/her out. This first tactic involves a diet of beans, cheese and other gas inducing foods to cause you to stink up the room as much as possible. If you are farting so much that it stinks the room up, it may encourage your living buddy to spend less time around.

2. Late night coughing fits. For me this hasn’t been on purpose. I got the flu right before the semester started and it’s left me with an awful cold. Unintentionally, I have been coughing and hacking all night long and she has an 8 am. I really wish this damn cough would go away though. It’s not very enjoyable.

3. Let your roommate walk in on you masturbating (or pretending to). This one is a bit more out there but definitely increases the awkward factor by leaps and bounds. Downside is that there is the gossip factor to keep in mind. If your roommate is the type to tell everyone everything, you might want to skip this one or you may find yourself with a sex fiend reputation (not that that’s always a bad thing…. but I’ll save that for another post).

4. Sexiling. This tip is similar to the previous one. If you have a significant other or fuck buddy, ask for the room as much as you want. If you are always having sex in it, he/she may just go and move in with their significant other. Although if your roommate is single, this tactic is flat out mean and I wouldn’t recommend it unless your roommate is a soulless and evil person.

5. Blasting music they don’t like. Self explanatory but the best way to do this passively is to have the music playing when they get back to the room so that it doesn’t seem like you are doing it to piss them off specifically. If you really want to be passive aggressive, even turn the music down a bit when they come in to make it seem like you care.

6. Being a slob. This one is also self explanatory and pretty easy, but make sure you can live with yourself being a slob…. personally this method doesn’t work for me because I’m kind of a neat freak.

7. Kill them with kindness. For example, if your roommate has a boyfriend and wants him to stay over, be totally ok with it. Gradually they will take advantage of this and then you can throw a btich fit over her having her boyfriend over all the time. This is just one example of how this principle can be used. It’s pretty vague so let your unscrupulous imagination run wild.

8. Move their belongings while they are sleeping. This idea is rather intrusive and only for the worst of roommates. Doing this to someone nice would be absolutely awful, but if you have one of those intolerable roommates, move their keys and ID in the night so that when they are getting ready for class they have to search for them.

9. Never take out the trash. Personally, I can’t do this. I like things neat and clean so it would drive me crazy.

10. Throw a wild party! I started my fall semester out doing this, not to aggravate my roommate and suitemates, but to have some fun before the semester started. I’m glad I did because they have made it next to impossible for me to do this again, even though I was respectful and cleaned up after the first (and last…) party.

Well, that’s all I have for now. I hope you enjoyed my tips (although I don’t recommend using them) and stay tuned for my rants about trudging to class in a New England winter!