Inviting Writing: Late-Night College Food

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This month's Inviting Writing takes on the theme of college food, which, judging from all your responses so far, is the opposite of health food. Maybe that's because the strange new taste of independence is so potent for many of us as freshman. It tempts us to eat crazy things like raw ramen noodles (yes, that was me) and makeshift Rice Krispy treats. Or just to eat at crazy hours, as in the case of today's featured writer, Jennifer Walker of the Baltimore-based food blog My Morning Chocolate.

But it sure was fun, wasn't it?

Late Night Eating By Jennifer Walker

During my freshman year, I lived in a dorm with other students in my university’s Scholars Program. As part of this program, we took classes in a chosen specialty, and, in theory, lived on a floor with other students in our track. Yet somehow I ended up as the lone Arts student on an International Studies floor, across the dorm from my classmates.

Since I’m a quiet person anyway, I was nervous about living with a group of people who already shared a common interest. I felt like an outsider. But I quickly made friends, thanks in part to a classic college ritual: late-night eating.

Sometimes that literally meant going to "Late Night" at the university’s dining halls, which reopened between 9:00 p.m. and midnight to serve some of my favorite college junk foods: mozzarella sticks, burgers, French fries. (There may have been salad too, but I don’t remember anyone eating it.)

As long as I left my dorm room door open, anyone from the International Studies floors could become a dining buddy. Someone would inevitably pop their head in and ask, “wanna go to Late Night?” Then we’d walk to the elevator, picking up a few hungry hall mates along the way.

On these walks to the dining hall, I learned more about the people I saw only in passing during the day. There was Andrea, who shared my belief that typing (as in typing on typewriters) was the most valuable class she took in high school. And Ricky, who, like me, lived for the dining hall’s grilled cheese and tomato soup Fridays.

Granted, I barely said five sentences out loud. But I listened, and I felt like I was part of the group.

When we didn’t feel like walking to Late Night, having Papa John’s pizza delivered to our dorm was just as good. The same rule applied: if I left my door open, I could be asked to come to someone’s room for a slice.

My friend Steve was often the host. We would spread the pizza box on the floor, open up containers of garlic dipping sauce for our crust, and talk. As each person finished eating, he or she would stand up and return to their respective rooms.

These late-night eating rituals were a regular part of my week—and social schedule—until the end of the first semester. Then, looming finals meant I didn’t have hours to spend loitering in the dining halls or chatting over pizza boxes. Instead, I spent my evenings sitting at the desks in one of my dorm’s study rooms. It was there that I found a new type of late-night “cuisine.”

One evening, a group of us had taken over one of the rooms on the first floor. As the hours grew later, people dropped off, closing their textbooks in favor of sleep.  Eventually, only three of us remained. We decided to pull an all-nighter.

“Let’s go get some coffee,” my friend Kim said. We left our books in the room and walked to the convenience store in the center of our quad. It was crowded. I wasn't a coffee drinker at the time, but I still got in the self-service line, ready to fill a large cup with steaming hazelnut brew. Here, I also met quad mates who had decided to caffeinate themselves for late-night study sessions. We commiserated about our finals and the work we still had to do as we drank our coffee through the early morning hours.

I haven’t felt that same camaraderie since I left college. My dorm mates and I were all in the same stage then: living in a new place and asserting our independence, even if this just meant showing that we could eat French fries, order Papa John’s, or drink coffee in the middle of the night.

Today, more than a decade later, I’m a student again. This time, I’m already independent—a married woman with an apartment, a job, and several bills to call her own. I don’t even know where my university’s dining halls are, and that's fine with me. Late-night eating with my husband just wouldn’t be the same.

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