The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

Chewing the fat over dining hall food

WAH, WAH, wah. College food stinks. Wah, wah, wah. My mommy's food is better. Complaints about campus food at the University are as stale and redundant as the pasta and tomato sauce that always are served in the dining halls. While some students prefer to sulk in the corner of the cafeteria, however, crying into their chicken stromboli, others have chosen to find the humor in this perennial problem.

Personally, I am perfectly content with the array of dining options provided here, and my diet of French fries and ranch dressing seems to satisfy all my health needs. For those who are so inclined to voice their opinions, however, the middleman between students and the kitchen is the comment board.

With its scattering of quips and biting criticisms, the comment board offers a light at the end of the dining tunnel. And in some ways, each board is a microcosm of the clientele it caters to, reflecting the unique character and style of each dining hall through the smart-alecky remarks offered.

Perhaps because of its size and diverse diner attraction, it is no surprise that Newcomb Hall has the most unpredictable board, a study in contrasts between the contented and the incensed. Comments range from general pleasantries: "The dinner tonight was excellent - my compliments," to the surly and succinct: "The food on Sunday - all of it - was pitiful. Try harder."

Other comments reflect a little more thought and care: "My concern is for the fries. Every day I come here at 1400 to eat and when I get fries, they are always hard. Can we fix that please? Also, the chowder was great!"

This "I like chowder" motif was reiterated throughout the Newcomb board, although the use of military time was not. Other items, however, were not so popular, as was stated meekly in some messages: "Please bring back the old orange or lemon-lime Powerade. Mountain Blast is weird."

After sifting through this mosaic of Newcomb notes, I was determined to find out who was writing the responses. In order to find the manager, I first interrogated the card swipe attendant, who asked me the nervous question "Has any of the food made you ill?" repeatedly. Finally, I was escorted into the office, which lay at the inner sanctum of the kitchen.

"I try to respond to all the comments, except the ones with bad language," said Linda Blacke, service manager at Newcomb Dining Hall, "I take them as seriously as they are written - but if they're funny, then I can be funny, too."

My pointed question about meat quality, however, was apparently "not funny," and Ms. Blacke proceeded to grab me by the hand and drag me into the meat freezer, where all meats and cold bulk items are stored.

"See? Everything is grade A and name brand, just like you see at the store," cried Ms. Blacke as she pointed to the rows of Wishbone salad dressing, Aunt Jamima maple syrup and boxes of fresh beef and chicken. "What do you have to say about that?" she demanded, teasingly.

"I can't believe I'm in the meat freezer," I shivered out unintelligibly through my chattering teeth.

After this intense, if slightly odd, episode at Newcomb, I stumbled down the road to O-Hill, determined not to berate any managers and simply look at the comment board. But while Newcomb's comments warranted a chuckle, I quickly found that O-Hill's merited a hearty laugh. I expected Newcomb's comments to be more creative, since the dining hall caters to the Brown College that so prides itself on its eccentricity. But while being quirky sometimes means being comical, there is still something to be said about the wide-eyed observations of a newly disgusted first-year diner.

The comments at O-Hill were plentiful but quality still matched quantity: "The corned beef hash tastes like cat food smells." Some comments came in the form of helpful suggestions about decor: "Tree, the Pan Geos guy, is cool. Give him a hat with peppers on it," and about ambiance: "Seeing that O-Hill is referred to as O-Hell, have you thought about a Satan Theme Night?"

Other comments reflected the pinnacle of creativity exemplified by the fresh-out-of-high-school college first year: "Could the dining services start having Bud on tap for O-Hill?"

It seemed like the O-Hill question fielder had heard this question one too many times: "One day, when you are all grown up (and that day may never come) you can have all the beer you want. But for now, the answer is: no."

At Runk, the comments seemed sparse and characterized by a theme of desperation and remorse. Runk's board, however, was definitely entertaining, primarily because of the humorous Runkisms which reflected despair at being flung into the dining wilderness. This was perhaps best captured by the complaint about Caribbean Theme Night: "Come on. We live in Hereford. Our morale is already low."

After pouring over these snippets of dining hijinks, the laughs proved to compensate for the runny eggs and watery soda that were mocked. From Newcomb to O-Hill to Runk, one thing was for certain. University students definitely find spitting out comments more fun than spitting out food.

(Diya Gullapalli is a first-year College student.)