Monday, December 5, 2022

Behind the MSU Food Critics: The good, the bad and the devious

November 21, 2022
Design by Aryanna Dorsey
Design by Aryanna Dorsey —
Photo by Aryanna Dorsey | The State News

You might have passed one of them in the hallway, or spotted one taking a sneaky photo of their meal in a campus dining hall. You might even have met them without knowing. They walk among us. They’re a voice of the people, an anonymous mouthpiece for students' strong opinions of East Lansing's eats.

They are the Michigan State University Food Critics.

In fall of 2021, six friends realized they were talking quite a bit about the food served on campus. One joked they should document and review their experiences of the dining halls. Another stepped up and created an Instagram account, bringing the idea to life. Their first post was a review of the MSU Union’s vegetarian chicken tenders.

“The vegetarian chicken strips are hyper realistic and I feel as tho I am in Ready Player One,” the post read. “However, when you eat more than two some fries I feel like I am being choked by Ronald McDonald.” 

Almost exactly a year later, @MSUFoodCritics has almost 300 posts, and their MSU-specific memes and creative descriptions of food have garnered them over 1,600 followers.

Throughout all of this, the six friends have remained completely anonymous as they administrate the account.

“We're really good friends, so it's really easy to joke with each other,” Admin One said. “I think a lot of our really good posts, we're riffing off each other.”

Admin Two said they tried to be analytical at first, but humor won over after one admin posted a photo of a grilled cheese from Brody Hall with the caption, “This grilled cheese tastes like grilled a--.”

From then on, the group embraced their comedic tone as they continued to post.

Their follower count grew quickly, especially after a Feb. 26 collaboration with @MSUAffirmations, another MSU-specific Instagram account that posts encouraging statements you might find the average Spartan convincing themselves under their breath – like “I will get through midterms week.” 

“We ate at Beaumont Tower, it was really fun,” Admin Three said. “We did a conjoined Instagram post and a lot of their followers followed us, and they have a lot of followers.”

By this time, the critics had expanded their range, reviewing restaurants around East Lansing and Okemos. They were also regularly receiving 100-200 likes on their reviews, which weren’t always negative. Admins approved of Case Hall’s sundae bar, Snyder-Phillips’ pierogies, Hubbard’s mozzarella sticks, MSU’s Dec. 7 student appreciation meal, Brody’s tempura chicken and much more.

Admin Two recalls having a meal so good, she remembered the specific date she ate it.

“On January 17, 2022 they had chicken parm,” Admin Two said. “I remember eating it and being like ‘This. I want more of this.’ It’s not just eating to survive, it’s eating it because it’s good. It’s still the best thing I’ve ever eaten in the dining hall, and I don’t think it can be topped.”

On Nov. 11, 2021, Admin One gave a favorable review to the Brody Hall grilled cheese, the same sandwich the account had slammed earlier that month. This contrast was something the admins enjoyed – they often comment on each other’s reviews using the food critics account, creating the appearance of one admin with six different personalities.

“It would just be the account commenting on its own post, so it looked like we were a little insane,” Admin One said. “That's something we joke about … and play into the craziness of six people running one Instagram account, it can get sometimes chaotic, which is kind of fun.”

Much of the critics’ humor comes from their creative use of adjectives, like the word “devious,” which Admin One said can be used for something very bad or very good. The word is such a signature that they're concerned they reveal themselves by using it out loud on campus.

“It’s devious how much we use the word,” Admin One said.

One post from Oct. 13 described the Snyder-Phillips dining hall as a “gladiator pit,” where on any given day one could run into an old elementary school classmate, a high school nemesis or a professor whose class you skipped that afternoon.

A Sept. 8 review describes Landon Hall’s apple cheese biscuit as “a slippery little bastard” and quotes a line from the Jurassic Park movie: “Your (chefs at Landon) were so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” 

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All admins have access to the login, but the group enjoys bouncing ideas off each other and going out to eat together. They identified Admin Three as the funniest of the group and the driving force behind the distinct, ridiculing and pop-culture referencing tone their reviews have adopted.

Admin Three said they felt lucky all of their friends had the same sense of humor.

This summer, the critics became the admins of another successful MSU-specific social media account, Fake People @ Michigan State, which previously went viral for its TikTok videos of random people around campus paired with captions that imagined a backstory for them. The food critics took over this account after its previous owner graduated from MSU.

“TikTok’s a much larger audience, our food account is more niche,” Admin Four said. “The TikTok has to be a little less like that.”

The food critics have had their fair share of accidental reveals – Admin Four once accidentally followed fellow club members from the critic account by accident and had to confess. Admin Two’s roommate recognized a photo they posted in their room. Admin One was approached by an acquaintance she hadn’t seen since high school, asking them if they were behind the account.

Admin Four said they want to further expand their reviews outside of campus next year, when all six admins will be living off campus. Admin Two said they may start reviewing local bars when most of their team comes of age.

And when the admins are no longer living on campus, will MSU’s foremost campus food critic forever move past the dining hall walls? Will they quit, leaving students to wonder if the meal they are about to dig into is devious, tasty or maybe a little bit of both? 

Not exactly.

“We’ll still eat there,” Admin Three said.

“It’s gonna change slightly, living off campus,” Admin Two said, “but I think we all plan to do it until we graduate. It doesn’t look like it’s going to get any less fun.”

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