The Tao of Meal Plan

Tao — “the way.” The notion’s metaphysical vastness is alarming. “The way” to what? Taoism, an Eastern belief system, would contend that it is “the way” to best interact with and understand nature in order to lead a happy life. But college students consider “the way” pretty often, too. “The way” to get “the right” level of intoxicated. “The way” to check BlogDailyHerald in a 10-person seminar. “The way” to get a high-paying good job after senior year. Someone’s probably even pondered “the way” to avoid yielding to cars at Brown and Waterman. There is one question, however, that almost every Brown student contemplates at some point in his/her undergraduate education: what is “the way” to best utilize the meal plan? Everybody has his/her own answer to this all important question, but BlogDailyHerald will offer some insight on the pros and cons of meal plan taos after the jump.

Persnickety Self-Service, Exceptional Meal: Some meal planners believe that thoughtful selection with those tan plastic tongs can remedy the difficulties of large-scale cafeteria cooking. Taking an extra few seconds to pick the right Grilled Cheese on Wheat can make the difference between a great meal and a utterly devastating one.

Downside: you will be that asshole who takes too long to grab his food…seriously.

Harsh reality: you may just be living in self-denial (the accidental differences between mass-produced grilled cheeses are honestly never too great).

The Moist Principle: Food that is inherently gloopy (e.g. Mac and Cheese, Vegan Chana Masala, Pesto or Red Sauce Gnocchi) will stand up best to prolonged storage in large batches, while any breads or fresh vegetables suffer. One could also call this the “casserole principle.” Thus, aim for moist dishes cooked in large quantities and you’ll avoid the abomination that is overcooked snap peas.

Why it’s tough: It’s somewhere between a solid and a liquid diet — the lack of texture has craze-inducing potential.

Living Retail: (or Ratty/V-Dub, say what?) If you generally sleep until 4 pm, you might be living retail. You are a stranger to the term “all you care to eat” and meal plan means quality foodstuffs (and marked up consumer packaged goods) from the Blue Room, the Gate, Jo’s and the Ivy Room. Italian Vegetable Saute is merely the mistake you made on day one of meal plan, and you haven’t looked back since.

Harsh reality: BDS ain’t making money off the points — that’s why it’s November 1st and you’re completely pointless.

Harsher reality: Once you’re out of points and declining balance, you literally cannot eat before 4 pm.

Theory of Non-Discrimination: Your parents, your benefactor, your university and/or just you are financing your education, room and board and you’re going to stretch the room and board part to the best of your ability. Meal plan is food that you are not directly paying for, and therefore it’s good food. Economic pragmatism and gratitude prevail over picky eating. Food is food, even if it may be gross.

Harsh reality: When gastronomical non-discrimination translates to restroom tragedies.

The Fried Principle: Packaged flash frozen food + hot oil = delicious. Similar to The Moist Principle, The Fried Principle advises strict adherence to a single type of food preparation — namely that which is greasy, salty and piping hot. 

Case in point: Chicken Finger Friday. 

Harsh reality: See Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.

Vegetarian (but not really): Can you tell the difference between cheap chickpeas and expensive ones? If you answered ‘yes,’ you might be a vegan. For the rest of us, legumes prepared in large batches will likely taste better than meat prepared on the same scale. Thus, some omnivores opt to go heavy on the vegetation (salad bar, carbs, beans, veggie patties) and spare their tongues and stomachs the often difficult task of eating and digesting Carne Gizado.

The downside: In following this tao of meal plan, you represent everything Ron Swanson hates. And Ron Swanson is (bleep)n’ awesome. Why would you ever ignore his wisdom?!

Sans Meal Plan: Victoria Soto has done a great job of expounding the beauty of freeing yourself from dependence on a magnetically-charged piece of plastic for food. You can cook (and clean) your own tasty meals, ultimately spend less money and, if it’s your prerogative, eat nothing but Wal-Mart brand Pop Tarts and save that food allowance for more important things. Life without meal plan, depending on your outlook, could be a truly great deal.

Harsh reality: You have to buy everything you would want to eat or prepare for meals, clean up after those meals and concern yourself with a dozen other things you never worried about on meal plan.

Ratty Gourmet: There is a student-run Blogspot (ha, remember Blogspot? It’s like the PC to Tumblr’s Mac, for blogging platforms) that serves as a testament to the tao of Ratty Gourmet. When you think about it, the Sharpe Refectory (more particularly its salad/sandwich bar and vegetarian bar) provides you with an opportunity to craft your own decadent meals without purchasing ingredients or cleaning up your mess. In theory it’s pretty awesome, but the harsh reality is that you still have to put in the effort to prepare a meal in a dining hall filled with people effortlessly scooping super-sized spoonfuls of Cajun Chicken Pasta onto their plates.

So, what tao should you follow? It’s really a matter of personal preference, and this list is in no way comprehensive. Ultimately there is no “way” to make the meal plan perfect, there is only “the way” you understand your tastes (and digestive abilities) and apply that knowledge. Hopefully these suggestions guide you in the right direction, but there is always the chance that only your unique experience will show you the path. Until that day comes, adhere to the BlogDailyHerald tao: CFF(orget about going to the Ratty for lunch on Friday).

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