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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Free Lunches for College Students

By Frugal Son

It seems to be a requirement that at some point in life, in order to successfully complete the metamorphosis from adolescent to adult, one must go through a period of voracious appetite, limited income, and even more limited cooking skill / desire / capability. Instead of the more elegant process undertaken by caterpillars wishing to become butterflies, humans appear to require a steady diet of Twinkies, queso dip, and Chinese take-out to make the transition to adulthood. College is often looked back upon with nostalgia, though rarely for any lost gustatory pleasures. College, however, does not have to be a desert barren of delicious food, and especially now that more and more universities are improving their dining hall facilities. Unfortunately, as I have mentioned in previous posts, dining halls can be expensive, and even though I’m not the poor, starving college student of yore, I still enjoy seeking out alternative avenues of alimentation.

One of the avenues I have been taking advantage of this year is something that can probably be found on any campus: free church lunches. Though I have known about these lunches since my freshman year, either my schedule or my conscience has interfered. Not being a member of any Christian denomination, I always felt like a fraud when I went to the lunches. It would have been better if I could have a few friends to go with, a sort of group camouflage, but it was hard enough to find time in my schedule, let alone that of even one friend. So, I normally went alone, and anyone looking lost or friendless is immediately descended upon my hordes of (well-intentioned) people wishing to draw you into the fold. The prospect of this kind of attention kept me away on the few occasions my schedule would have allowed and during my year in France I mainly forgot about free lunches.

This year, however, the free food gods have smiled on me; not only does my schedule allow me to go to all three lunches offered per week, but at least two and sometimes even five friends, are able to go with me! So, since the beginning of this year, we have been faithfully going to three churches per week: the Baptists on Monday, Episcopalians on Wednesday, and Catholics on Thursday. The food is often quite good, although there have been a few dud lunches, filling but unexciting, where the church just ordered pizza or made pasta with sauce. This being Louisiana, however, I can count on having red beans and rice or jambalaya at least once per week, but other highlights have included gumbo, rice and gravy, meat pies, and fried chicken. Each church also has its own flavor. The Baptists always have great desserts (homemade brownies, cupcakes, cake, and cookies) but they often have small group discussions at the table, which can be rather intense and uncomfortable. The Episcopalian church has great desserts as well, but where they really shine is in their salads—whether they be fruit or vegetable they are always fresh and tasty—and in their generosity. They always offer seconds and on one occasion, the servers even came around to bring us seconds of meat pies! The Episcopalians also have a short talk during each meal, but, since the theme of the lunch is “Lunch with C.S. Lewis,” it is always a discussion of one of his books, which is often interesting. The Catholics have the most impersonal lunch (it’s also the largest; probably 500 meals per week versus about 200 for the other two): you just walk in, stand in the long, snaking line, get your food and eat wherever. Perhaps because of the size of the crowd, their food is often the least interesting, tending towards the types of meals that are easy to make in quantity and the desserts are cookies from a store. No complaints, however, because for the Catholic lunch we are free to eat outside on the grass.

There really aren’t many things better than stretching out on the grass with a plate of hot jambalaya and enjoying the company of friends, especially if, as luck would have it, it is one of the precious weeks of Louisiana’s fall when heat and humidity are replaced by crisp, cool air and beautiful blue skies. Moments like that, regardless of one’s faith, are something that I think everyone can agree to be thankful for.


Duchesse said...

You have very clearly described your pleasure at stretching out with hot jamablaya, your good friends (unimpeded by any intrusive hosts), and beautiful weather, heightened by your pleasure that you are asked to contribute nothing in exchange.

I understand the allure of freebies, but am disturbed by your post.

Funny about Money said...

Dang! None of our campus chapels ever offered free chow!

The Newman Center used to have a kind of low-rent coffee shop where you could get a cup of battery acid and some toast buttered with a strange grease. But they never gave the stuff away.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Duchesse-I am not sure why you are disturbed. These are lunches hosted by campus churches that are only open to students.

@Funny--Maybe it's just Louisiana??? People are so generous with food (and mardi gras beads) here.

Duchesse said...

Frugal: I am disturbed because of the tone of the post, the references to not liking being expected to participate in small group discussions ("awkward and intense") and "anyone looking lost or friendless is beset upon by hordes...wishing to draw you into the fold". Hello, why do you think they offer you lunch?

That Son's favourite lunch is not only the best food but the one where he has to contribute nothing, is not something I'd be proud of. At least he's honest about his freeloading.