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on the downward side of the age mountain.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Cafeteria Cuisine

It is hardly worth admitting, but I’m always fascinated with people’s consumption of food. I stand in mesmerizingly rapt attention when a grocery cart is emptied.

How many people in the family? Is this a pick-me-up (as in men’s shopping styles) or coupon laden decisions? Then I look at my prospective purchases and try to put them into the categories I have devised. I waste many hours with this mental masturbation.

I recently found myself visiting the Princess. Living in a sorority at a fairly well known University is light years away from my own urban collegiate experience. But one thing is a constant when leaving the nest and that is eating at the union cafeteria. Now “in my day” the colleges were still trying to force feed us nutritional meals. There were ice cream scoops of potatoes, palm size slabs of meatloaf,steam table vegetables, and gobs of hotel pan cobblers in red (cherry) or beige (apple).

I remember calling home and telling my mom that I had tried Brussels sprouts for the first time. She shuttered with disgust replying that the reason we never had them at home was because she was loathe to eat them. Little did she know that that’s the way I feel about lima beans today and they have never darkened a family plate in my house.

Now the cafeteria’s of the new millennium is all about not only feeding the next generation but making money as well. This has banished Brussels sprouts and introduced Sbarro, Dunkin’ Donuts, and deep fried nirvana to our acne dotted young adults. I have the distinct feeling that “nutritious” isn’t part of the equation.

What do they eat far away from home with no supervision and just a growling stomach to guide them? I grabbed a cup of coffee and sat at a table toward the front of the cafeteria. As I got my bearings I noticed the clichés and demographics of the patrons. I had plopped myself in the Asian section. Be-spectacled Chinese gentleman were laughing and telling stories. Two Korean contingents were trying to write a passionate paper threading random sentences into an “A” worthy treatise. Caucasians and other nationalities dotted the cafeteria in random clusters with computer bags and books. Audio plugs kept the rumble at bay for these students.

No one drank milk I’m sad to say Tropicana had to fight for a spot. This is a Pepsi cafeteria but I saw more students drinking blue beverages and bottled this and that than a big slurpie of caramelized water. There were boxed salads consumed but garnished with deep fried chicken fingers. Mozzarella sticks, French fries and chicken fingers was a three course delight for the males. Ladies liked wraps and everyone had bags of “healthy” Sun Chips.

I think I sat there about an hour before I saw a sandwich and a PIECE OF FRUIT!! on a gentleman’s tray. I felt like dashing up to him and kissing him on the cheek as well as e mailing his parents to tell them what a good son they raised!

The most curious eating habit I observed was by the Korean students. Gazing at their trays I noticed various Italian dishes and huge rolls. The couple that sat closest to me, a waif thin lady and rectangular flip-flopped male companion had gone through the Sbarro line. Both with some kind of pale yellow bottled tea, a Himalaya of pasta for him and rafts of ravioli for her. The plates were anchored with a zeppelin shaped roll that was the size of a five year old’s foot.

Just as I was pondering the Asian affinity for Italian cuisine, I noticed a wonderful cultural merging. The gentleman absently twisted his pasta but somehow didn’t fill his fork. He hunkered down scooped his fork and slurped his noodles as if he was home. Slurp after slurp his red coated noodles slithered down his gullet. Each time he swallowed I couldn’t help but inwardly smile. The young lady used knife and fork to delicately cut her ravioli and they both left their plates spotless.

Now my bigger pondering is how are these young people going to turn into the next foodies? Brussels sprouts and lima beans will become extinct and lettuce will be the only edible green.

Any answers?

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