Off the beat: Food rules for college life


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Michael Pollan seems like a cool guy. He's been one of the faces of the slow food movement for the last half-decade and is also a professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley. The campus gave out free copies of "The Omnivore's Dilemma" for their On the Same Page program not too long ago, and I figure I'll get around to reading that one of these days.

But honestly, I'm 20 years old right now, and college life is not exactly most conducive to his advice to "eat by the grace of nature." My metabolism is still working reasonably well, and I'm more likely to dig into a late-night pile of onion rings than shell out an extra 50 cents for that organic label.

And in that interest, here's a more visceral, less healthy set of food rules.

No. 1: Your hands are utensils.

I don't care if you think it's easier or neater to eat pizza with a fork and knife - there are certain foods that are meant to leave your hands looking like you just murdered a small animal.

Just because there's silverware sitting in front of you doesn't mean you have to use them. God gave you a set of dexterous fingers and thumbs for a reason, so use them well.

As an old Carl's Jr. commercial once said, "If it doesn't get all over the place, it doesn't belong in your face."

Notable exceptions: deep dish pizza from Zachary's and wet burritos from pretty much anywhere.

An addendum onto this rule is that you should never order burrito bowls at Chipotle. There's a certain animalistic thrill involved with cramming a burrito into your mouth, and a burrito bowl is a bastardized abomination that completely robs the eater of that thrill. If you're getting tortillas on the side and wrapping your own burrito, that is more acceptable. No dinky little grab-and-stuff-into-your-mouth moves though - wrap up something proper.

One more thing to remember: always have a healthy stock of napkins at hand.

No. 2: Chicken? You might as well just shrug.

Don't just take my word for it. Anthony Bourdain once wrote: "Chicken is boring. Chefs see it as a menu item for people who don't know what they want to eat."

We've all grown up with the idea that anything weird - frogs, those insects in "The Lion King" - tastes like chicken. The bird has become the everyman of meats, essentially functioning as a placeholder sponge that soaks in the flavors of the sauces around it. It has no character of its own.

Stick with beef or pork. And speaking of the latter ...

No. 3: Pulled pork sandwich is the best sandwich.

The pulled pork sandwich is one of the few reasons I would ever want to venture into the South - the Carolinas are supposedly home to the best.

There's something exquisite about the simplicity of the shredded meat neatly folded inside a sweet roll with a smattering of coleslaw. Certain places take this meat seriously, slowly barbecuing an entire pig split in half for something like 12 hours. Once they lift the giant metal lid, the meat pulls so cleanly off the bones you can do it with your bare hands. Orgasmic.

Turkey is my meat of choice when it comes to cold-cut deli sandwiches, especially peppered turkey. It has a nice, fresh taste that fits in nicely with crispy vegetables. Ham is fine too, but pastrami should be reserved for hot sandwiches.

Stay away from Subway. Don't give in to their lackluster sandwiches just for the convenient $5 price tag. Every time you go there, you legitimize its doubled-up existence on both the Telegraph-Bancroft corner and Bear's Lair. And I will hate you for it.

No. 4: Everything is better with meat - unless it's dessert.

Vegetarian food can be delicious. Ethiopian and Indian food stand out as solid examples, as do various types of raviolis stuffed with squash or mushrooms. While becoming vegan is near unfathomable, I can imagine sustaining myself on a vegetarian diet for a short while.

But as good as those meals may be, they get ramped up to another level when you add any sort of meat. Think about it. You're enjoying a salad - boom, someone sprinkles on some bacon. You pull a freshly baked potato out of the oven - good thing you have bacon. Scallops? Wrap it in some bacon.

Leave desserts out of this though - beef cake just sounds weird.

No. 5: Finish everything on your plate.

Self-explanatory. There's no sense in letting food go to waste. Only do this if you're intent on insulting the chef. It doesn't matter if you're full; you can always get the leftovers to go.

No. 6: Wash your hands.

Sometimes, I walk into the bathroom and see people leave without making that 15-second pit stop at the sink. I know the instructional signs there are explicitly directed at employees, but come on.

Get your life together.


Contact Jack Wang at [email protected]

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