The College Diet: Breaking Down the Food at SMU's Cafeteria

Keep Dallas Observer Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Dallas and help keep the future of Dallas Observer free.

America's future leaders are piling back to their schools, and we're honoring them with how-to's, survival guides and personal stories of failure from Observer staff. That's right, It's College Week. See also: The Top 20 Dorm Room Posters Of All Time

As Nick and I walked into SMU's RFOC Cafeteria (Real Food On Campus), a nice lady greeted and gave us the rundown. For $8.75 we had unlimited access to a world's bounty. "It's Asian day," she told us, and pointed to a station tricked out with saucy stir-fries. She motioned to the salad bar to our left and told us the cereal bar was tucked just around the corner.

Ah, the cereal bar. It's been a long time since I've been in a college cafeteria, and a lot of things have stayed the same. As the woman swiped my credit card I remembered some familiar feelings as I surveyed the room and tried to formulate a plan. The various stations laid out an endless tapestry of prepared food that was mine for the taking and I was overwhelmed by a sudden, almost giddy and uncontrollable desire to eat everything.

And then I did.

Nick attacked one of the hot stations, composing a plate of french fries, a grilled cheese sandwich and a sloppy joe he assembled with onions, pickles and a bun that might have been slowly toasted on the hood of a car. The grilled cheese sandwich was dry, too, resembling a thin whisper of Velveeta between two lightly buttered saltine crackers. The french fries were abysmal. The exteriors were tough and chewy and yielded powdery insides. McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's all do a much better job of flash frying spuds.

Meanwhile, I slathered a flour tortilla with refried black beans and then added eggs, some tater tots shaped like hockey pucks and a ladle of salsa. As far as breakfast tacos go, and considering what I was working with, I was pleased with my creation. But I was just getting started.

I attacked the Asian station for round two which gave diners a choice between two starches. The lo mein noodles wore a glossy sheen of oil, and fried rice was mostly plain, save some large clumps of scrambled eggs. Beef and broccoli filled one dish and a chicken stir-fry with peppers filled another while two dishes of vibrant peas and carrots hid at the end of the run. They looked like the most fresh and delicious thing in the cafeteria, but fuck that: Nick found pizza.

Not good pizza, but pizza. Cici's serves better, and if you're paying attention you'll begin to notice a recurring theme. A lot of fast-food places offer better chow than can be had at the RFOC. And it's often cheaper, too. Granted, Chick-fil-A around the corner doesn't offer an all-you-can-eat option, but at least there's real(ish) chicken on their sandwiches, which is more than I can say for the chicken stir-fry, here.

As I bit into one of the crunchy, breaded morsels I was absolutely astounded that it contained no chicken. There were small threads of what used to be fowl, but the bird was long gone -- completely fried into oblivion leaving nothing but chewy, oily starch in its wake. The beef had some bulk but was just as arid. I guessed over-cooking might have been partly to blame but I wondered if I'd discovered some latent impact of last year's drought on the beef industry.

If I werer an SMU student and my diet consisted of three meals a day, every day, at RFOC I'd be on antistatins in a month at my age. I'd also be depressed. What started off as a fun idea for a blog post to welcome students back to campus, turned into a very sad realization: This food was much worse than I imagined. This is the foundation of the freshman 15.

It's not all grease and cheese. There's a modest salad bar set up as you walk in. It tempts you with a few trays of lettuce, some vegetables and a selection of dressings you can pour over your healthy creation like pancake syrup. Twice the real estate in the dining room is devoted to a desert bar, though. Why eat carrots when you can eat cake?

Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Observer community and help support independent local journalism in Dallas.


Join the Observer community and help support independent local journalism in Dallas.