Thursday, June 4, 2020

Column: Find your cafeteria and hold on to it

August 9, 2019
Vegan and vegetarian options are prepared at "Veg Out" at Case Dining Hall on Sept. 4, 2018.
Vegan and vegetarian options are prepared at "Veg Out" at Case Dining Hall on Sept. 4, 2018. —
Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

Here's the thing about living in the dorms your freshman year: it's going to be crammed, too hot during the summer, too cold during the winter and you're going to learn some serious problem-solving skills from having roommates and suitemates.

But at least the food is unlimited.

I don't know exactly how many hours I spent in the Case Hall cafeteria my freshman year, but it was definitely hundreds upon hundreds. From my room on the North side of the sixth floor, I'd walk to the elevator or catch the stairs if I was feeling up to the exercise, go down, swipe the card and be reintroduced to the wild world of the college cafeteria.

There are somehow both too many food options and not nearly enough in every cafeteria on campus. Some might offer slight variations — Asian in one place, Southwest in another, omnipresent pasta. But the food, while not your mother's cooking, somehow over the course of the year exercises some sort of Stockholm syndrome power over you.

Walking or busing to class in freezing temperatures and striking winds is hungry work, so you'll end up making your way back to whatever your caf of choice is two, three or eight times a day. I have so many memories of sitting in cafeterias freshman year — working on homework, procrastinating homework, watching basketball, but mostly just sitting and talking with people I had never met before I came to MSU.

For all the talk about how college is about managing your time, which it is, you'll also have long stretches of time that just sort of exist in the ether. Whatever routine you had in high school is gone. Your parents aren't there to tell you what time to eat dinner or go to bed or clean your room.

For me, a lot of that time was spent in the caf.

I moved off campus my sophomore year, and I've probably eaten in campus cafeterias less than five times in the years since. I don't think I've been back to the Case Hall cafeteria since my last meal there in May of my freshman year, which was squeezed in while packing up for a long flight home.

But I remember everything about it.

I remember the faces of the different people who would swipe your card when you came in from the North lobby. Some were students, some were much older. There was an old Haitian man, who was so unbelievably friendly and accommodating when I was trying to use guest passes or sneak through to the other side to avoid the snow.

I remember where the soda machines were. One had root beer, my soft drink of choice, but the other one didn't. Nobody knew why that was.

I remember the corner booth where I would sit, with roommates, with large groups of friends, with girls I was unsuccessfully courting. Sometimes we would eat lunch, sit there for hours, until we realized we were hungry again and eat dinner.

So, here's my advice to incoming students: You're going to be paying a fortune for this meal plan. It's upsetting to think about, really. Find your caf. It's probably the one in your dorm or neighborhood. If you're feeling fancy, maybe it's Brody, since everyone says that's the best caf on campus. But whichever it is, find it and enjoy it.

It's strange to say, but you'll end up missing it.

And there's no such thing as too much pasta.

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