At this point in time, the stereotype that food on college campuses is a joke still holds up for many. Tons of schools are serving mass-produced food to their students, and plenty of these same colleges and universities even offer fast food from chains like Dunkin’ Donuts and Wendy’s.
In the midst of it all, there are some places of higher learning that double as great places to eat. Here’s what we had to say about our own experiences in honor of School Week.
I could regale you with horror stories of CU campus food, but I was forewarned and never actually ate any. Frankly, neither did anyone else I knew. There was only one “cafeteria” on campus and no one went there, instead we all walked to the area surrounding our campus known as “The Hill,” which was its own little mecca of gourmet restaurants and take-away eateries.
One thing you have to understand about Boulder is they’re (we’re?) a bunch of health-nut hippies, so the prevailing cuisine is vegan/vegetarian/organic so-and-so. Lots of juice bars. Lots of whole grain sandwiches. Lots of fair trade coffee.
There is the rare junk food hot spot, though, and my favorite was Cosmo’s Pizza, the perfect 2 am pick-me-up. An extra-large costs $17 and is enough for a family of five plus leftovers. They also make their own spicy ranch dressing aka heaven on earth.
Yeah, I miss Cosmo’s.
Every time I reflect upon the cafeteria menu at Binghamton University, a small tummy ache spawns. Our campus dining halls were catered by Sodexo, which served us an unpalatable selection of pre-packaged, pre-sliced tomatoes, preservative-packed cereals, and soups that would inevitably solidify skins on top. Sodexo also serves food to prisons.
During my sophomore year, one student decided he was a Rastafarian and went on a hunger strike against the meal plan. While no one really took him or his cause too seriously, his story was featured (mockingly) on The Daily Show, and a lot of my friends found it funny that the segment referenced smoking weed in the Mountain View dormitory bathrooms.
A tastier, healthier option was the onsite student Food Co-Op, which offered vegetarian hot buffet with black bean burritos, steamed veggie medleys, and whole grains. Other than that, the best food was found off-campus, like the wraps at Cyber West Cafe on the city’s west side or Pad Thai at Thai Thai Cuisine way out in the boonies.
Like at Binghamton, SUNY New Paltz’s food supply is catered by Sodexo. In freshman year, students are given an a la carte meal plan to use at the one main dining hall on campus. Although this meal plan has its benefits–especially for student athletes–it also contributes to over-eating and unreasonably sized portions. The running joke at New Paltz is if you feel backed up, you can grab a bite at the dining hall and be in the bathroom in minutes.
Thankfully after freshman year, students upgrade their plans and are able to purchase food in the Student Union Building, which consists of healthier options like salads, sushi, and paninis. Even these choices have a way of messing with your stomach after a while. I was thrilled when I moved off campus senior year and could prepare fresh and nutritious meals both for my housemates and myself.
Like others, Ithaca College dining halls serve food provided by Sodexo and though I didn’t find it to be too bad, it did get boring after a while. We had three dining halls named for the buildings in which they were located: Campus Center, the Terraces, and the Towers (this is also, incidentally, their ranking from worst to best). The Towers was best because their salad bar was the freshest and their food was the most fried, but still became bland after a while. They also had a TacoTuesday that my friends attended most of the time, but that was more for social reasons than because the tacos were actually good.
However, the bright spot of Ithaca, NY, is that there are so many restaurants, take out places, and grocery stores that I stopped using the dining halls as my main source of food by the end of sophomore year. My personal favorite was Rogan’s Corner–at least partially because I worked there throughout my junior and senior years. The food was exceptionally greasy but delicious, especially the spot’s local favorite, the Bomber sub (steak, fried chicken, melted mozzarella, blue cheese or ranch, and buffalo sauce). Plus, since I worked at Rogan’s, I could make anything I wanted, including a grilled chicken/Italian sub or fried Swedish Fish. Other highlights from Ithaca were Collegetown Bagels, the Ithaca Farmer’s Market, and Bandwagon Brewpub (they have the best fries I’ve ever tasted).
So, even though the dining halls at Ithaca College were lacking, the town made up for it in spades with all its food options.
I hate to say we saved the best for last in this instance, but there’s just no way around my bragging rights. As I mentioned previously, UMass Amherst placed second nationwide in best campus food. The school, which serves food that is “source[d] locally year-round,” is also the first university to offer SPE-certified dishes.
I retain fond memories of the dining halls, as well as the Student Union’s sit-down sushi restaurant, its burger joint, and Pita Pit. I still crave ciabatta sandwiches from Blue Wall in the Campus Center, but that’s been renovated since I graduated.
When it comes to UMass’ campus food, what I miss most of all is Berkshire’s make-your-own stir fry. The dining hall offered beef, shrimp, chicken, and tofu along with a wide assortment of veggies (sprouts, broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, onion) and several sauces.
Of course, anyone in the Amherst area knows that there’s a large selection of restaurants in town to choose from, too. My favorites include Cushman for breakfast and coffee, Antonio’s for a drunken slice of BBQ Steak Burrito pizza, Moti for Persian-Mediterranean (amazing gyros), High Horse for great top shelf drinks and bar food, and Baku’s for authentic Nigerian cuisine.
Honestly, if you’re going to spend any length of time in Amherst, join a gym.
Feature photo courtesy of Adam Jones.