Why I defend university food culture

by Madeleine Brown

To quote myself (because no one else does): “We all know students have a great reputation for their cooking skills. Right?” (There’s a reason I’m not quoted often, or ever.) Now let me clarify my statement. I certainly don’t intend to perpetuate some claim that all college and university students have professional-level knife skills and a perfect palate. No, students have a very…unique set of cooking skills.

I read my fair share of lifestyle magazines and it appears come 30 everyone develops an annoying internal alarm that cries out everyday at 4:30 pm: “What am I going to make for dinner tonight?!”  Students are completely oblivious to this phenomenon. Firstly, they’d never consider eating dinner as early as 5 pm—hey, they might not have even had breakfast by that point. Secondly, they don’t associate any form of pressure with food preparation. “Nothing in the kitchen except ketchup potato chips, Sriracha and leftover pizza? Sounds like a well-balanced meal to me.” And in busy exam season they proudly announce: “Grocery store? I don’t have time for that. I’ll just eat bowls of cereal for the next two weeks.” Whatever real adults may think no reality cooking show judge turns up at your door over supper hour to critic your (ultimately very unimaginative) poisson à papillote topped with some hideous chive garnish.

I suppose it’s an overall attitude thing. Students have fun with their food. They never feel guilty about late night shawarma every Friday or cafeteria waffles every Sunday. And even if they do the feeling never lingers long enough to break the habit. They strive to try every greasy spoon possible without ever lifting their noses or making airs. They’re buddies with the pizza delivery guy—no one, not even their boyfriends or girlfriends, have ever been there for them as consistently as that dude has. Food is present at every occasion from study sessions and movie nights to house parties and lectures.

Why I defend university food culture (1)
We students love our snacks

And sure despite all this there’s also the oddballs who mealplan, cook from scratch, live for their weekly grocery shop and review every food product on campus—this girl right here. But I like to think that again that extreme attitude to food can only exist during these years. Where the ‘laxed food attitude students turn into the 4:30 pm dinner blues crowd, the folk like me can’t keep up when kids and other grown-up responsibilities hit the scene. (Sort of trading places-, or how the other half lives-like.) It hasn’t happened to me yet, but I won’t be surprised when it does and suddenly assemble-at-home salads seem like a good idea.

I support college and university food culture because it’s truly a time of exploration and experimentation. (Finally) released from the clasp of their parents’ Taco Tuesdays and packed lunches, students discover food for themselves. They make mistakes and come upon true triumphs. In times of instability—which these years are without a doubt—food remains a constant. If only we didn’t have to succumb to adult food snobbery. So give the respect that’s due to pizza for breakfast, pop tart sandwiches and the other delights of student cookery while you still can.