February 18, 2003

The joy of dining hall meals

If only griping about dining halls were a sport, and this sport somehow reflected in the appearance of those College students who sustain themselves with Aramark's industrially produced food-like substances. Then Pierce, B-J, and Bartlett would undoubtedly host a wondrous collection of well-toned pectorals and rippling biceps, conditioned by grueling workout sessions of complaining about the craptacular garlic lime chicken or, god help us, the unholy concoction which is the lamb korma. However, my primary purpose is not to explicate the failings of dining hall food, a task far better left to the giants of that field, those whose bodies and rage alike are fed by Aramark, but rather to celebrate the community and spirit which thrives in the dining halls as it does nowhere else.

Many sad and lonely souls have bitterly derided the University for being a sad and lonely place, projecting their own social failings onto the campus population as a whole. One looking for the social bonds and friendship supposedly lacking at the U of C need look no further then the raucous house table. Whether naming the profoundly large and impressive hickey of a housemate (the 2-inch diameter mass of suction-shattered capillaries was eventually designated "Bruce") or delving into the intellectual depths of how philosophy complements other fields of study (final conclusion: "Philosophy sucks," with some dissenters maintaining: "Bite me"), I would argue that the dining hall table is the true center of much of student life.

How could any college education be complete without the lore of generations of students past, myths told over the green trays and marginally edible food so well known to so many. Be it the Legend of the Kool-Aid Colored Vomit, the Odyssey of the Sleepless Finals Week, or the cultural touchstone that is the Chronicle of the House-cest Gone Wrong, young and impressionable first-years must learn these lessons. The wisdom of grizzled third- and fourth-years, learned through raw pain administered by uncaring professors, alcohol-bewitched doorknobs, psychotic roommates, and alcohol-bewitched psychotic prospies, can be transmitted in the dining hall like no place else.

And if a campus-wide community existed, bringing together from the various domiciles of the housing system students in search of nutrition and settling for corn dogs, where else but in the dining hall could that community be truly expressed on a regular basis? Where else could former residents of Woodward and Pierce share their tales of communal showering gone horribly, nakedly, wetly wrong? Math concentrators and those studying Fundamentals would have little in common without the Durkheimian creation of shared cultural experiences which makes the University-ARA experience so special. Who could say how many romances between math concentrators, scared of both hygiene and all that is not an equation, and Fundies, terrified of having a real major, have blossomed only because of a shared dislike of twice-baked potatoes? To deny these trysts (and the dining atmosphere which spawns them) would be to deny the very humanity which binds our campus together.

We attend a university renowned for its intellectual rigor, but much of the genius of the student body is expressed not in the classroom or in the papers which fuel academia, but in the debates and discussions which take place every night in our three redoubtable fortresses of food service. Take for example, the revolutionary advance in physics that is the Quantum Bra Tunneling Theory. After observing a piece of Chex Mix fall down the shirt of one female subject, only to disappear entirely, the physics concentrators present postulated that the cereal in question had quantum tunneled into another bra, location unknown. Research money for this exciting new field of theoretical physics remains woefully lacking, leaving questions as to the possibly unique quantum structure of bras unanswered.

To those who see in our university a collection of social misfits and brooding loners, I ask only that you enjoy a fine Aramark meal at your nearest dining hall, and listen to the boisterous conversation certain to be taking place a few tables over. The house table, properly nourished with opinionated residents and with the food as fodder for U of C-style griping, can truly be one of the shining gems of the University experience.