Remember This? #33 College Dining Hall

The Benson Memorial Center dining commons, the place where I had ever so many a meal. This woman was there when I was in school and actually remembered me. I ate my favorite SCU breakfast, scrambled eggs and tater tots (pictured above), two days in a row. I doused them with ketchup, and their greasy goodness tasted wonderful….and then sat heavily in my stomach all day. It was worth it. Since I rarely eat fried foods, I simply had to eat all of those tater tots when given the chance.

To see the pictures below as a slideshow, click on one to enlarge it and then hover with your mouse on the right edge until the arrow appears.

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When ordering, I noticed a common type of exchange between one of the cafeteria workers and a student. The worker was a Latina woman with a heavy accent who asked the girl, who was Caucasian, what she would like to order. The girl asked for “Just eggs.” The woman began piling tater tots on the plate, and the girl repeated, “No, just eggs.” The worker nodded and started adding eggs to the plate, and the girl said loudly, “No tater tots, just eggs.” Her tone wasn’t disrespectful, but she was becoming understandably frustrated at not being understood. Observing this reminded me of this type of uncomfortable tension between private school students and the older immigrants who serve them. I remember that when I was a student, noticing my relative privilege made me feel both grateful and guilty. I’m still not quite sure what to make of it.

I used to eat at Benson during peak hours, so there wasn’t a lot of time to chat with the cafeteria staff. Last week, I ate breakfast early — the dining hall is deserted before 8:45 a.m. — so I had the opportunity for my first meaningful exchange with the Asian woman in the picture, whom I’ll call Ellie. It turns out that she has a son in college at Berkeley, and that she paints in watercolors and oils. A couple of her pictures currently hang inside the food court, and she has a gallery show coming up soon. I feel fortunate that the project has given me a reason to have conversations like this, to step outside the norm and find out things about people that I otherwise wouldn’t.

At lunchtime on Saturday, I did eat during peak hours. Actually, on weekends Benson seems to be bustling all day, as students roll out of bed and into the dining commons in sweats. I had hoped to order a burrito, which used to be my favorite lunchtime option. Sadly, the burrito bar was closed by the time I got there, so I settled for a deli sandwich. Since I was committed to “method lunching,” as I call it, I reminded myself to get a vegetarian option, since I didn’t eat meat from the ages of 13 to 23. (Traveling in Germany after college broke me of the habit.)  I’ve always found the good selection of food at Santa Clara to be fresh and of high quality, and this hasn’t changed.

I felt a little conspicuous to be dining alone, but it allowed me to observe the students at neighboring tables laughing and chatting. There were tables full of stereotypical Santa Clara girls: blond, tanned, and made up; other tables were full of skater boys; still others had equal numbers of guys and girls.

I saw one thing that I’d never seen as a student, when cell phones were just beginning to catch on. Two girls were eating together, and one was talking on her cell phone, while the other ate in silence. The phone conversation, snarky girl drama at its finest, lasted more than five minutes. Here’s a public service announcement: When you’re eating, ignore your calls, especially when dining with just one other person. The More You Know

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What do you remember about your college dining hall or apartment dining room, and your meals there?

Comments (3)

  1. Margaret

    1) I remember this lady too! Charming as always…
    2) I know what you mean about the tension0 part of America. I recently discussed a similar theme with Brian recently, about social security, rights, privileges, respect, wealth differences, age differences… he was distressed by seeing older people (think 70 and up) doing menial tasks to earn a living, after having worked hard all their lives. I was arguing for fairness of resource allocation, however, and sort of playing devil’s advocate. Tough issue.

    Reply
  2. Margaret

    Bonus: Margaret’s favorite brunch item, although not often indulged in: toasted bagel with cream cheese and strawberry jam on top- made it seem like a cheese danish!

    Reply
  3. Melia

    Mmmm, I haven’t had that for brunch in ages. I love mixing jam and cream cheese, especially when it’s whipped cream cheese.

    Reply

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