Campus Food, the Discovery Channel Experience

Growing up eating mostly authentic Asian food, (with the occasional American restaurants), when I had to live on campus for college, I had no idea what most of the foods were in the dining hall or even how to eat it.  Not only that, but my body also kept rejecting the food.

In order to live on campus, everyone had to order a meal plan.  If I recall, this meant for about $1500 a semester or more, (now it’s up to $2500!!),  you get an all you can eat buffet per meal at one of the several dining halls on campus.  There was a mixture of Polish American food to Mexican American.  The more diverse areas have the “Asian” section, which is the same type of stuff you get at a Chinese American restaurant.

Let me note that the “Chinese” food you get in a typical Chinese restaurant, is really American food with a hint of Asian.  (It’s business, when restaurants give the greasy goodness that Americans want).  It’s the same with Taco Bell, and any other chain restaurants.  So basically, I wasn’t used to 98% of the food on campus.

So during the 4 years I was there, especially the first semester, and especially not knowing anyone to guide me, I would wait in the food line, observe how everyone got their food, how they prepared it on their plate and how they ate it.  What the heck is Shepherd’s pie?  I thought it was “Shepard’s pie”  Did it originate from a guy with a shawl and cane who prepared it and is it goat meat?  Is it a desert?  What is beef “shavings”???    I was sooooo confused and people probably wondered, Why the heck is she staring at me eat?  I realized that Shepard’s pie is an entree made of mashed potatoes, ground beef and corn mixed in and the beef shavings were for philly steak and cheese sandwich, (for awhile, I would put the shavings on top of pasta and eat it like a beef pasta).  Eventually when I made more friends, I’d ask them what some of the things were.  I felt almost like a kid entering the world.   Like the Discovery Channel, I went on a food adventure,  observed the culture, watched how others behaved with the variety of food, and tried out all sorts of food.

Some other foods they had that I wasn’t familiar with prior, were perogies, “Chicken Chimichangas” which were like chicken burritos, smoked salmon (awesome stuff), all sorts of pastas (sea food, chicken, beef or pork), liquid eggs in a carton (instant eggs cooked into omelets or scrambled), 15% maple syrup, warm cinnamon apples (I think those go on pancakes), chocolate chip pancakes, etc.  There was the Grab n’ Go place that was subway style, and I’ve only ate at subway probably once, so I needed to ask my friends how it worked.  I’d make my own food experiments like warm cinnamon apples, on top of vanilla ice cream topped with Clusters cereal.

But there were American foods I was familiar with, (the only things I knew of in American food), burgers, fries (with optional nacho cheese machines), the hot chocolate machine, fresh eggs (the campus had a farm), calazones, hot dogs, spagghetti, potato tots, fresh fruits and vegetables, deli sandwiches, dressings/condiments, bread sticks, sea food (well that’s more ethnic), Thanks giving food, jello, cheesecake, candied apples, etc.  There were several dining halls on campus and places to eat.

After A LOT of trial an error, a whole lot of stomach aches, and feeling sick all night, many nights, I somehow picked up a good sense of what to eat and what not to eat, based on ONE bite into the item.  It was kind of strange, but just one bite would tell me if it was going to settle OK, or not.  It was like my digestive system’s defense mechanisxm.  Either my body builds some tolerance to certain things or signals tell me “DO NOT even go there!”   Of course that made me a little the odd ball out because at first I’d waste a lot of food if I couldn’t eat it; friends would throw me the guilt trip asking me “Do you know how many starving children out there?”.  As much as I would want to pick up the tray and find a hungry person who’d eat it, I wouldn’t want them to get sick either.  I didn’t have the time to go back into line twice either, so I did it in one shot, tried to take in moderation, and made a mental note of all the foods to stay away from.

So that was my Discovery Channel experience.  Growing up eating mostly authentic Asian food made the campus dining food experience a culture shock and I relearned how to dine by observing others eat, just like when anthropologists go out to foreign lands, learn by observing and living with the others.
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