Posted by: joha5 | June 8, 2010

Cafeteria Calamity: One Man’s Absurd Relationship with Food

Tofu quiche.  Macaroni & cheese.  3 Bean salad.  Carrot sticks.  What do all of these things have in common you might ask?  The answer is nothing.  Absolutely nothing at all.  Yet it is still what I consumed for lunch today at the school cafeteria.

A delicious meal of food!!

I’m not a big foodie although I certainly wish I was sometimes.  When it comes to wining and dining, I just have a hard time telling the difference between what is good and what is bad – or I should say what I am supposed to like and what I am supposed to hate.  I can taste subtle differences in many different variations of the same food but my taste and my palette is so undiscerning that it very rarely makes any difference to me at all.  I can tell the difference, for example, between a good steak and a great steak, a good beer and a great beer, a good ice cream or a great ice cream, and even between a good cookie and a great cookie.  But while I can taste the difference, I genuinely don’t care enough to ever worry or think about it. 

So when I walked into the ‘Leonsis Dining Commons’ – the absurdly and euphemistically named cafeteria at the school I work at – I was very troubled about what I saw was on the menu for the day. 

NOTE: The cafeteria is named for Ted Leonsis who used to be the President and CEO of AOL before he sold it and he is the current owner of the Washington Capitals professional hockey franchise and the brand new owner of the Washington Wizards professional basketball franchise.  Don’t worry.  I have asked him for a job a handful of times and have been ritualistically and unceremoniously rejected each time.  So much for strong alumni networks in tough economic times. 

The menu included something called ‘Roast Round’ but looked like no roast I had ever seen before.  There were the obligatory items such as fruit, yogurt, soups, salads, sandwiches, and desserts.  But other than the Roast Round, I was offered tofu quiche, macaroni and cheese, and a couple of other items that I have since purged from my memory.  Yet seeing these horrible looking foods reminded me of being right back in high school and having to choose the best option out of a multitude of bad ones.  

I seem to remember always having a chicken option or a beef option and neither of them being any good.  The chicken was always overcooked and encased in some weird herby crust and the taste would stay in my mouth for hours at a time.  The beef was always overcooked as well and I can recall my jaw aching from getting a such a workout while chewing the cud-like meat.  I remember the pizza being greasy and tasteless, the spaghetti being clumped together and occasionally chewy, and the french fries being wilted and soggy.  In fact, the only thing that the cafeteria staff did with unparalleled excellence were the tater tots.  I don’t know why this was the only thing they could cook but they always came out perfectly: salted, crispy on the outside, warm and soft on the inside, and they would go with any sauce you could possibly imagine.  Yet – true to form – as much as I complain about it now, I never really cared all that much. 

Mmmm...Tater Tots...

I think the reason why I don’t particularly love food as much as I feel like I should is because I am always so damn hungry when it comes time for me to eat that even if I was to be served a slice of grilled cardboard I would find pleasure in just dousing it with salt and pepper and maybe a small dollop of ketchup for good measure and devouring it whole.  Food for me is something that I am required to consume rather than really wanting to consume it.  It just takes up time, money, effort, and by the time my food is ready the pleasure just seems to be gone from the whole experience.  I understand people who like – and love – to cook and I really wish that I was that kind of person.  Maybe I will be that person one day but that day is most certainly not today. 

It really is rather silly.  When my friend’s whip up an immaculate meal full of body and flavor I just sit back in awe and watch them work their magic in the kitchen wishing that I could do the same.  They always seem to make it so damn easy which is even more irritating.  For some reason it takes me 30 minutes to make a garden salad and for my friend’s who cook, they can walk out the door, hunt a wild chicken (is there such a thing as a wild chicken?), kill it, skin it, stuff it, roast it, and eat it in the exact same amount of time.  I don’t know what I am doing wrong but I clearly missed out on the home economics class in high school. 

...Infact, I am about as skilled in the kitchen as our Swedish friend here is (Bork bork!!).

Thus, food is work for me no matter how much I try to make it fun.  My attitude probably partially explains my less-than-distinct palette because if I truly cared about what I was eating then I wouldn’t regard eating as work.  But alas, I do.  Every now and then I have rare snippets of pure gustatory pleasure and I just wish that my relationship with food was different so I could appreciate the subtle tastes that differentiate the good and the great

But for now I just muddle through the day grazing around for anything that tastes even remotely passable.  The horror that many people would find at filling up your lunch box with carrot stick, tofu quiche, macaroni & cheese, and 3 bean salad is lost on me.  Because for me, it’s just another day’s work.



  1. I enjoyed reading this. Looks like that school lunch needs a Jamie Oliver makeover!

    • Haha! This (thankfully!) is actually a picture from a school cafeteria in the Czech Republic so the closest I will EVER be to food like this is about 5,000 miles away…and thank God for that!!

  2. Tater tots…the only edible food in school cafeterias.

    Have you heard about the guy in the DC area who goes back to high school to get the Thanksgiving dinner each year?

    • I gotta admit that I do have a small love affair with tater tots thanks to my high school and college cafeterias! And I have not heard about the guy in the DC area who goes back to his high school for Thanksgiving dinner every year! I tried to Google it but I couldn’t find it anywhere. If you know of a link then please let me know. What an embarrassment!

  3. See, there’s a reason to get up fifteen minutes earlier to get that brown-bag lunch ready…

    • I couldn’t agree more. I don’t mind getting up a bit earlier to make a mildly decent lunch. It is just crazy to think that people can actually stomach food like that and still survive. I mean, I’m no culinary expert but even I have my limits!

  4. You forgot to mention/note your world class omelettes!

    How are you at cutting tomatoes?

    Bork Bork!

    • Charles! Omelettes are basically the only thing that I can do well. Don’t judge me!

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