Thursday, December 2, 2021

College without pizza brings many challenges

March 27, 2001

It was disgust at first bite.

With every forced piece, my distaste grew stronger.

Growing up, everyone from friends to teachers to distant relatives had similar reactions: “You don’t like pizza? How can that be?”

My senior year of high school, the question became: “How are you going to get through college?”

Well, there’s nothing like someone telling me I can’t do something to get me going. I decided I would not eat a single piece of pizza during my college career.

But I had no idea how hard that would be until I got here.

My first semester at MSU, I actually ate the dorm food. And because restaurants were kind of far, cafeteria food was about all I ate. Because I didn’t participate in late-night pizza gorging either, I actually lost weight. But I got sick, which the doctors blamed mostly on the dorm food, and I had to go out and buy $100 worth of groceries.

During my dorm years, I missed out on the bonding experiences of late-night get-togethers and floor parties. Not that I wasn’t content to munch on my Lucky Charms. Throughout the past five years, I have skipped many pizza parties and trips to local pizza places. However, I don’t think I’ll be needing a therapist any time soon.

Cereal, microwave meals and the occasional sandwich from the caf got me through first semester. I wasn’t so lucky second semester, which I spent in an apartment in England. I didn’t know how to cook and we had no microwave. Cereal choices (and English food alternatives) were very limited, and because of Mad Cow disease, I was afraid to even try McDonald’s.

But I was determined not to give in and eat pizza, even though my roommates thought I was a snob because I kept turning down their offers to share it. My hatred for pizza forced me to try different foods, particularly ones I had feared. Who knew Indian food would become my new favorite? And I discovered that some varieties of Mueslix are actually quite good.

That summer, I continued my studies in France. The fact that this country is the cheese capital of the world did not help my resolution. “You don’t eat zuh pizza? Zee Americans always love zuh pizza,” locals would say. I ended up eating a mussel - I won’t even eat fish - to please my host instead.

My sophomore year, I became vegetarian, which complicated things more. I could no longer substitute roast beef subs or sweet-and-sour chicken for pizza. Friends started to realize that I really did not like it - I was not being antisocial and I was not on a diet. But it was still hard on birthdays and holidays, when someone would want me to eat a piece “just for me.”

Studying in Italy, the home of pizza, two years ago was the ultimate test. “You-a don’t-a like-a the pizza? You-a must-a eat-a the pizza,” I would hear over and over again. After much coaxing, I did try a bite of pizza in Naples, where the round food originated, but that was all. The distaste was still there.

And it hasn’t gone away in the two years since. But I have come to realize that pizza is a huge part of our culture. Just as the Japanese have their noodles and the Austrians have their weinerschnitzel, we Americans have our pizza (though it originated in Italy). And college is the Mardi Gras of pizza.

In order to keep my resolution in this (and other) pizza-obsessed cultures, I have made some sacrifices (in addition to eating that mussel). I kept getting sick from not eating meat or cheese, so about a year and a half ago, I started eating meat again. I bring snacks on all trips and to long meetings where “refreshments will be served.” And vending machines have gotten me through many long days and nights.

On a trip to Chicago a year and a half ago, I survived on burgers and fries for three days - literally. When I voted in November, I refused pizza four times in line, though I was starving. I felt out of place, remembering what an African man once said to me in Europe: “You cannot be American. Americans don’t speak more than one language and they do eat pizza.”

I must say, the smile on my face as I whipped out my passport on that train was not nearly as wide as the one that will be there when I walk across the stage in Breslin - and not for the obvious reason.

But after five years of college, I still have not consumed a single slice of pizza.

Jennifer Meese, a journalism senior, can be reached at meesejen@msu.edu.

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