Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Me And My Meal Plan: A Photo Essay

I live in a university dorm as faculty-in-residence, and the position comes with a meal plan. I probably eat four meals a week in the cafeteria, and usually the food is just okay, perfectly fine. But last week, I had these green beans and they were amazing, generously seasoned and slightly crisp, not bland, rubbery and overcooked as they tend to be. I had seconds. I had thirds. I finally approached one of the cafeteria workers and expressed my admiration. Turns out, he was the guy who made the beans. "Butter," he said. "Butter, lots of garlic, salt, and fresh basil." Fresh basil. Damn, Northwestern.
This mostly vegan meal resembled something I'd cook myself; collard greens, rice with lentils, and hush puppies. I am not vegan; I eat a plant-based diet that includes a little dairy, the occasional egg, fish once in a while. I thought it would be hard to find enough to eat in the dorm, but it is usually surprisingly easy. Industrial food has changed since I was first in college.
Although here was a dinner that could have come straight out of 1986. Remember all those baked potatoes we used to eat? The idea to add the tuna came from my years of living in England. They will put anything on a baked potato over there (they call them "jacket potatoes"), and as it turns out pretty much anything tastes good on one.
Some things are just not for me. I don't at all get why students freak out over and line up for something called the "hot cookie bar." A tray of hot, gooey, undercooked cookies. That's it. But I do love that the students leap from their seats when this comes out every Friday. I'm surprised by how much I enjoy this aspect of communal living, the group rituals and rhythms of the week. I have always considered myself a very private person, but it is fun to inhabit a bigger and more social world. I never lived in a dorm when I was in college, so it's interesting to have this experience as a middle-aged woman.
One thing we can all agree on is this: Sriracha is absolutely essential. I have always been a fan: now I'm an addict. Forever after, when I am squirting Sriracha all over my stir fry, my roasted potatoes, my omelette, my tomato soup (try it!), I will remember these weird and wonderful years.

No groceries to buy on the way home. No exhausted and uninspired weeknight vegetable chopping. No dishes to wash. What do I care if I end up eating some strange dinners once in a while? The meal plan has brought gender equality to my family - I am writing more, playing music, I even go out to see shows once in a while, maybe because I'm not exhausted from my second shift. It's a big adjustment for me, and a bit of a conundrum - I love food, I love to cook, I am a huge proponent of home cooking, but I have got to admit: my life is better with a meal plan.