Gourmet belly timber
Kelsey Maccombs never has eaten ramen noodles and never will. Yes, she is a real college student.
Maccombs, an advertising junior, tends to appreciate the finer meals in life and particularly enjoys Mexican food. For comparison, the recent The State News 2011 Best of MSU Awards concluded the best Mexican food in town is Taco Bell. That does not say much for the quality and variety of food in East Lansing.
Maccombs admits other “college students have low low low standards.” Clearly.
When young people go to college, it usually is their first time living on their own. Regardless of where the money comes from — a part-time job or daddy’s paycheck — some portion of it goes toward nourishment. That nourishment manifests itself in the buffet of dorm food, tons of local restaurants and risking injury to cook for oneself.
All options have a common denominator: a hungry college student without parental guidance.
So how do we choose what, where and how to eat? Our decisions are influenced heavily by upbringing, the media, friends and personal perceptions. Food is no different. It is meant to be experimented with and explored.
Cheap and greasy
MSU is a huge influence on the East Lansing economy, which has led to less-than-great dining where the most important quality is cheap. Less than $10 per meal is not bad for a rushed meal or alcohol-absorbing grease, but it does not promote fine dining culture.
Dublin Square Irish Pub and Restaurant, 327 Abbot Road, and Beggar’s Banquet, 218 Abbot Road, stand out as above-average downtown restaurants. But any time past 9 p.m. and diners should not expect a peaceful meal. East Lansing is a bar town. Barring a revival of prohibition, that is unlikely to change.
Drunk people are not very discerning about what food they want other than cheap and unhealthy. This pervasive bar culture might mean a trip to Lansing or Okemos for more refined food, but it’s worth it. Maccombs, who said she can’t resist a good restaurant meal with friends, often travels well outside of East Lansing for dinner.
“We are missing the little hole-in-the-wall authenticity that would scare college kids away,” she said. And I wouldn’t disagree.
With the safety of the 24-hour McDonald’s Dollar Menu and damned-near-free ramen noodles, a decent meal seems as elusive as the waiter when you need a drink refill.
Students should want to expand their palates as they challenge their intellect and alcohol tolerance.
Great restaurants are too far, too expensive and too slow. Making food takes effort. Trying new things is scary.
Get over it.
At age 10, I was tricked into trying calamari because my mother told me it was chicken “or something,” and I’ve enjoyed squid ever since. Not everyone was raised this way, but college is a chance to expand your palate.
Ethnic restaurants near campus give students easy access to interesting cuisine. No, Taco Bell does not count as authentic Mexican food. Culture is a part of a well-rounded education. Studying abroad is a great way to experience that, but for much less money, an authentic curry is a start.
Even going to a grocery store and checking out the international food aisle can be enlightening. Pick a few ethnic dishes or ingredients to use. Even if your ravioli tastes like feet, at least you tried.
A social connection
Not only do well-made dishes usually taste better, consuming them also is a social experience. Simply enjoy the ambiance of a nice restaurant, get a bit dressed up and take time to enjoy the company. In a digital age, conversation and face-to-face interaction has been declining.
How did ASMSU, MSU’s undergraduate student government, justify its schmooze-fest dinner with city officials? Eating together is a way to make a connection. In that sense, it doesn’t matter if it’s over toast or filet mignon.
The shared experience of food can be an integral part of forming lasting friendships. Eating with another person helps you learn more about his or her life and background. Trying something new together can bring about laughter or a new commonality.
Food is one of the best social tools and should be about much more than just counting calories or surviving. It’s an opportunity for connection whether it be with the culture from which the food comes or the people who experience it with you.
Alanna Thiede, opinion writer