Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Threshing wheat at Yale. (Boola boola.)

I will yield to no one in my claim that my college had the absolute worst food in the world. Breakfast and lunch were somewhat edible, but dinner. Blechhhh…. On a tiny campus where no one was more than a one minute walk from the caf, they had to start posting menus in the dorms because the caf phone would just ring off the hook starting at 5 p.m., as students looked for info before making the decision about whether it was worthwhile to take that one minute walk to find out what was on offer.

  • Charles River Scum (a.k.a. broiled fish)? Maybe a bagel from the campus snack bar.
  • Puck (a.k.a. beef of some type)? Better off opening a can of Campbell’s vegetarian vegetable.
  • Abortion (a.k.a. lasagna)? Sounds like a night when a pint of ice cream (with jimmies) from Dirty Drug will meet your dietary needs.

Sophomore or junior year, yielding to student demands that were easier to accommodate than parietals in the dorms or the elimination of the theology requirement, they put in a salad bar. So what if the lettuce was iceberg and the tomatoes those wan, pinky, pulpy squooshes. Having a salad bar meant that there would be something at least vaguely palatable for dinner.

But students these days are at the intersection(ality) of political correctness, fussy eater, food snobbery, personalized diet, and student as consumer (which has, somewhere along the line, replaced student as learner).

Thus, a few semesters back, we had the spectacle of Oberlin students bitching up a storm because the Bahn Mi that their food service food-served was inauthentic and culturally appropriating. Oberlin is just one of many schools getting into the food act.

College students across the U.S. are making some precise demands of school chefs and dining halls. For a generation animated by a desire to make a difference and raised to believe personal wellness is paramount, a meaningful academic experience begins with minding what you eat. (Source: Wall Street Journal)

The University of Houston grows hydroponic cilantro for the culinary enjoyment of its students. At UCLA, it’s aeroponic thyme. UMass, which I suspect served swill when my brothers were there in the 1970’s, is becoming a foodie haven of sorts:

“A strong dining program can attract top students,” said Garett Distefano, UMass Amherst’s director of residential dining and sustainability.

He pointed to a survey from 2016 that showed 70% of more than 1,200 UMass Amherst students said the quality of the school’s food was an important factor in their decision to attend. The school increased spending on local and sustainably grown foods to $4.9 million in the year through June, from $2.7 million three years ago.

Well, who isn’t for sustainability, but there’s really a UMass dean with the title “director of residential dining and sustainability”?

And while UMass students may have said that food was an important factor in their decision making, I’m betting if you asked their parents, it was cost compared to private college tuition, room, and board.

These days, food-minded students are everywhere:

“For me to see myself going to a school, I also had to see myself being able to eat there,” said Ally Roberts, an aspiring neuroscientist who started her freshman year last week at the University of Colorado Boulder. “I see a huge correlation between what I eat and how I think.”

A carrot-growing William & Mary student gushed that, the first time she pulled a bunch of carrots out of the ground – carrots that she’d grown herself – it “was just, like, a very fulfilling moment.” I mean, like, was it actually, like a very fulfilling moment or was it actually, like, a very fulfilling moment. At $57K a year, I’m sure glad this student had at least one fulfilling moment during her four years.

At Virginia Tech, students can munch at a “churrascaria, a gelateria and a sushi bar.” I bet you anything that the churrascaria doesn’t serve puck.

And apparently students at the University of Texas are so concerned about gluten that the food service FAQ now has answers a Q with an A that assures students that, no, there is no gluten in water.

But for sheer food preciousness, I’d say that Yale takes the cake – as long as the cake is made without eggs, butter, or flour, and uses only organic, thoughtfully sourced chocolate that’s empowering of those working in cacao communities. (And yes, there is a chocolate that uses a variant of this messaging.)

Since 2003, Yalies have worked in campus gardens so that they can “learn more about what they were eating.” And it really goes beyond just learning about what you’re eating. I mean, I learned that in kindergarten when we shook milk into butter. Yale being Yale there’s more:

Today the 1-acre garden is a hybrid farm and living-history laboratory, where students thresh wheat to lend context to readings of Anna Karenina.

I’ve now read that sentence three times, and each time I’ve laughed out loud. Do they use hand scythes, I wonder? Do they work hard enough to break into a sweat? But I guess if you’re going to lend context to Anna Karenina, threshing wheat is a bit easier to explain to the ‘rents than their kids really getting into the old context and throwing themselves under a train.

That wheat doesn’t just lend context, of course. The students also:

…grind grain into a flatbread dough made from a recipe in Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Am I the only one who wants to really rev up the context and seize the pistol from Count Vronsky’s hand and shoot it through the pages of a rare book in the Beinecke Library?


Thanks to my sister Kath for sending this delicious article my way. Yum!

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