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Kim Wilton Dine around

Campus food has come miles

During my first year of university, I lived in residence. The food served at our cafeteria was not terrible but it was not something I wrote home about either. Yes, there was a fabulous salad bar and yes, they made delicious sandwiches that could beat Subway any day. But the vegetarian options were particularly nonexistent and usually consisted of the aforementioned salad bar and bread.

Several years later, I lived in a Ukrainian residence where traditional cooking ruled. While I loved their borscht and perogies, their menu unfortunately stayed the same week after week. This lack of variation and choice often led me to look elsewhere for dinner.

Although some of my experiences with residence dining have been less than ideal, they never ruined my year or sent me packing for home. When I was choosing residences, I was mainly concerned with their location, their rooms and their prices. I paid little, if any, attention to the food they served in their cafeterias. It was the same when I was choosing which university to attend. I had no idea what food was going to be offered on campus and even if I had, I doubt that would have influenced my decisions anyway. However, this is a deciding factor for some students apparently.

A recent Globe and Mail article, titled Campus Cafes Get an A, featured an undergraduate student who picked his university based on the food they served. While I know people who picked universities based on their reputations for having great social scenes I had never heard of anyone choosing universities based on their reputation for food excellence before. But perhaps this isn’t so surprising. We live in a “foodie” obsessed culture, where cooking programs are prime time and top-rated TV shows, food columns grace the pages of practically every newspaper and gourmet restaurants seem to pop up on every corner. It was probably only a matter of time before this rubbed off onto campus dining.

In today’s ultra-competitive undergraduate market, universities are constantly trying to find new ways to attract students, and food services are the latest frontier. This coupled with students increasingly sophisticated palates and the growing demand for vegetarian, halal, and kosher options, is causing universities to overhaul their food services. Campuses across the country are stepping up to the plate, so to speak, and diversifying their selections. Backed by mammoth food budgets, universities have begun to offer gourmet fare such as smoked cheeses, calamari, and even pate, which rival commercial restaurants.

The food choices available at MUN are certainly no exception. Students in residence are served a mixture of old favorites such as chicken wings and spaghetti with meatballs and newer choices such as Hungarian goulash and Turkey a la King with a pastry biscuit. Elsewhere on campus, Bitters provides a delightful alternative to the regular food court grub with its wonderful vegetarian options.

Although I think it’s great that the food served on campus is becoming more diversified, I think the idea of choosing universities on the basis of the food they offer is slightly ridiculous. All the same, if you live in residence and have to spend several thousands of dollars on a meal plan, you should be able to have choices and eat food that you like. You shouldn’t have to spend extra money eating off campus and you shouldn’t have to spend your suppertime trying to guess what exactly is in that mystery meat.