Eat your heart out

Earlier this week there was a review of student dining at one of Ireland’s universities (not DCU). On the whole the reviewer was not complimentary, either about the quality or the price of the food on offer.

For myself, I remember very little about the quality and quantity of food I ate as a student; somehow the food wasn’t as important as other things, including drink. However, what I do remember is that food, or catering, were issues which once they were raised were guaranteed to produce heated argument, and with a bit of luck militant confrontation with the university authorities. And some of the causes were odd: on one occasion (in 1975 I think) we were willing to go to the wall in defence of the continued availability of burgers, beans and chips in the student cafeteria, a particular offering of food that should have been banned on health grounds rather than protected through militant action. A few years later, when I was a lecturer, I recall being at a general meeting at the university in which senior officers were having to announce a whole series of cuts because of dramatic reductions in government funding (hardly an unfamiliar event today); in the discussion that followed the student representatives demanded to know (as their only question) what the impact would be on catering.

We shouldn’t laugh. Food is important, from the necessary provision of nutrition to the social networking that often happens when we eat. If we believe (as I do) that university is about more than classroom learning, we should aim to make eating on the campus a positive experience. Much of that is to do with providing choice and quality, and making it as affordable as is possible. I believe that the quality of catering in DCU is exceptional, though like others we do have some arguments about pricing. But all universities need to realise that catering is not an unimportant sideshow, and that presentation can be as important as the actual food substance. Overall, what can be more important than the experiences of the senses when encountering food, in stimulating company.

What is required therefore is a catering operation that values and is excited by food and understands its significance in building community.

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2 Comments on “Eat your heart out”

  1. Jilly Says:

    It’s been a few years now, but I agree that by the (admittedly low) standards of university catering, DCU’s food isn’t at all bad. And it’s a huge improvement on the ‘old’ canteen, which I don’t remember with affection! Mind you, even that was better than the old UCD student canteen, which was grim beyond belief. That’s improved too in recent years of course.

    Price is a big issue in all those canteens, though. As is the fact that they’re almost all franchises of a large catering corporation, so the staff don’t actually work for the universities anymore. Given the prices they charge, I do wonder if the universities could do better themselves?

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