Image from Flickr

Image from Flickr

Let’s get something straight: food is important. Food is arguably beyond a means of subsistence; there is a culture nested around it which is infused with notions of art, subtlety and refinement. But when you are stuck to eating the same food in the same place for an entire year, food may be dulled to simply sustenance, for you need to eat to study, to practice, to do whatever you feel like doing as a budding adult. As someone who was required to buy meal plan for her first year of college, I have been run through the cycle of disappointment-rejection-acceptance in my relationship to dining hall food and gained some tips to make my eating “ventures”, no matter how monotonous, as pleasant as possible.


After a while, I noticed that the food in the dining hall is served on a rotating basis. At least by trials and errors I can know what dishes I like, or more correctly, what dishes fulfill certain standards while others stump rather clumsily. Eating in the dining hall means forfeiting the kind of food I have grown up being accustomed to, namely rice. The dining hall does serve rice more often than not, but both the texture and the taste are so different that it seems foolish clinging to something I much less enjoy. It is one of my first dining hall lessons, if there is some sort of observation and analysing which later accumulate into short, sweet and intelligent self-reminders. Do not persist on getting the same food that you had at home, because the food may be a far cry from your mom’s cooking while other options are equally nutritious and more appetizing.

Also, know what dishes are consistently good and form a safety net you can always fall back on no matter what type of food they decide to serve for the day, let your safeties consist of the pizza station, grilled chicken, the salad bar or toast and cream cheese. A friend of mine once recommended that we treat the offerings not as totally full-fledged courses but rather ingredients that we should take advantage of by being creative—mixing and matching the food from various stations into one colorful, exciting plate.

Try other food

When you are subject to having something too often, chances are you will grow sick no matter how good it tastes. It is then a good idea to seek other sources of food as a break and a means of recovery. I do eat out with friends from time to time, and I also indulge myself with good PanAsian take-outs when I’m feeling under the weather/homesick/not up to satisfying the standards of being a functional adult. But eating out is not the most money-saving or conscientious choice in a situation wherein you are obliged to purchase expensive meal plans, so remember not to be dependent on it. Making home-made food is an excellent solution if you find the time. And if all else fails, student organizations tend to hold on-campus events that provide free food although I strongly discourage walking into these events with the rude expectation of food and food only.

Eat with a friend

Eating with a friend is a good idea in itself. It has many perks which include diverting your attention from the suspicious mass of thorough despair known as your lunch or dinner. Whether you are getting to know a fellow classmate or catching up with a long-time acquaintance, the conversation is bound to carry away the grumpiness which would likely subsist should your mind only focus on picking fault with the poor quality of food. Even when the conversation turns out to be numbingly awkward and painful for both parties to resume, which is sometimes the case for me, you still have big motivation to dig through your plate: to finish eating and free all the conversational partakers from unnecessary faux pas.

I am not saying that finding someone to sit with is the right way to do it. I eat alone quite often and still cherish it as a positive part of my college experience. I tend to read a book that excites me in the moment, which is admittedly not the most efficient method of allocating time, especially eating time, because I am either too hungry to be fully engrossed in the book or too invested in reading to pick up the fork and finish my plate. If I am lucky, I may be able to remove the self-perpetuated urge to be constantly doing something “productive”, meaning I will sit, eat and do nothing else. No itching desire to pull out my phone, to finish tying some emails, to in touch with the whooshing virtual world. People watching can be fascinating because after a while, it feels like a loosening blank space that springboards you into your personal train of thoughts—being in control of your internal world as a benefit of looking outward. You wouldn’t think about how bad the food is. You may think about how bad the food is, but it wouldn’t affect you so negatively because you must attend to another thought, some elusive idea, a meandering question, which budges, whets, scorches and electrifies to a greater extent. That being said, attaining the perfect set of mind that liberates may be more difficult than finding company that helps break your world open i.e. demanding your attention to something or someone other than your food and yourself.

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the author

Chi Thuy Le likes to think she lives bi-continentally while writing out of Chicago.

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