The life of a first year is full of unprecedented stresses, and most are induced by the dining experience at halls of residence. Indeed, us students were warned: catering in halls is code for carbs, and fresher five is but a way to make ourselves feel better about weight gain (if everyone’s packing on the pounds, are we really getting fatter at all?).
Even though a conversation regarding hall food never occurred without the word shit in it, there were many things which remained unsaid. These we would come to learn in the first few weeks of living in a hall. Of course, such lessons took first losing our swipe card, then, missing the meal time, and finally, daring to serve ourselves the bourguignon of the day.
There’s two sides to the conversation of hall food. That of the menu, and that of the plate. A mediterranean baked chicken on the menu is somehow always translated as a lumpy white casserole on our plates. I’m about 98% certain that even the staff think “the fuck” as they pile it on our plate.
The vegetarian option recently became available to all, after being a hot topic in the kitchen for a while. I often wonder how the discussion went down. Did the catering staff team up with the one guilt-tripping vegan in the hall? Or, did some brave soul rise from beneath a tray and actually point out the meat’s indistinguishability?
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Let’s move along, I want to say, to something less bleak, but honestly the service of hall catering doesn’t call for such a transition. If you thought Rihanna was sassy, you haven’t met Beyoncé at the kitchen counter. I’ll tell you one thing, she hates serving you your shit two minutes before closing. And she’s not about to hit you with a fake smile.
I remember one morning, I was packed with lectures and it was nearing 2.00pm. Certain I was owning this whole student lifestyle thing (I’d stopped buying avocado sushi from Maki Mono everyday), I headed down to the dining room with a cinnamon and raisin bagel. I was mid-thought—about how awesome this idea was—when I felt the eyes of the kitchen lady cleaning the coffee machine behind me.
She looked at me, and looked at my bagel in the toaster. I looked back at her. It was not subtle, it was not sweet. She asked if I was aware that I couldn’t use the toaster after hours. I wasn’t about to stick my hand in there to pick out my bagel. She seemed frustrated that the logistics of the toaster didn’t allow for this. Even my bagel looked as if it wanted to shrivel up and disappear, anticipating how heated and tense the final minute of the cycle would be.
“Also, you’re not allowed to put bagels in the toaster. They get stuck.”
I narrowed my eyes; not only did they serve bagels at breakfast that same morning, but the toaster has a setting labelled “BAGELS.” When it came out the other side just fine I hummed a humdrum tune and walked out. It was as effective as telling someone to calm down when they’re angry.
We find ourselves having these same arguments every day. I haven’t taken a survey, but I’d say roughly seven out of eight staff members think it’s okay to begin pack-up at 9.30am when breakfast closes at 9.40am. There is one staff member who will feel sorry for you and poor some cornflakes into a bowl. The rest will point to your room when you ask for milk.
So is the overall vibe a ten? Of course it is. Sure, I felt personally victimised when I lost my swipe and they refused to serve me (even after said kerfuffles made us acquainted). Yes, I felt vulnerable when they questioned if I’d ceased the vegetarian lifestyle since lunch (the meat-lovers pizza actually looked good).
But you know what, as much as I complain—and together, I’m sure we will keep complaining—I wouldn’t change this lifestyle. The catering system at halls brings me about as much amusement as it does stress. To the staff who are just doing their jobs, stopping people in hallways with loaves of bread in their hands, and dealing with people who line up at 5.20pm for dinner, well, I take my hat off to you. I’d probably be sassy too.