If you click on the tab next to these blogs that says "Living" and then "Food & Dining," you will surely be well-resourced to understand the structure of Oberlin's dining scene, especially in terms of OSCA. What you might be missing, though, is a sense of what specific foods are available to students who are on meal plans on campus. Over the summer, I had a conversation with my friend Ali Alotbi '23 about our eating habits at Oberlin. This post may not exactly be timely, because the dining options on campus were a bit different a couple months ago, but if you're a prospective student, dining options will probably change a couple more times before you get to campus anyway. I'm hoping this can still give someone a decent sense of Oberlin Campus Dining Services food— though I can't promise you'll agree with its optimism.
My reason for interviewing Ali wasn't because I thought he wouldn't say anything bad about campus food, though that is what happened anyway. I wanted to interview him because I figured that our perspectives on campus food would balance each other out. Ali is a friendly-faced chemistry nerd and weightlifter who recently set the Ohio state record for squatting (which I am VERY impressed about) and eats a lot of meat. In a lot of ways, he's pretty much the opposite of me, and yet during this interview I found myself agreeing with some of what he said about the campus dining venues that were open during the summer semester. Here is how our conversation went:
Me: Let's start with DeCafe.
Ali: I usually only get, like, two or three things from DeCafe. I usually get either the sushi, the tuna wraps, or the funnel cake fries.
Me: Oh, those are so good.
Ali: Yeah, so I never really get anything else. The thing is that I get those things not because everything else looks bad, but just because I have a preference for those. Me personally, I really don't find any foods bad.
Me: Oh! Haha!
Ali: I just like sushi because it has a lot of calories, plus I like raw fish. You said the funnel cake fries are good, so we are both on the same page with that, and then the tuna wrap is really really good. It's, like, the green wrap, it has tuna, a lot of mayonnaise, a lot of spinach, and cheddar cheese. Those are my three favorite things from DeCafe, but I don't find anything else unappetizing, I just only get those three things, you know.
Me: What I've been loving recently at DeCafe is getting the "veggie flatbread," which literally is a pizza with veggies underneath the cheese, and I ask for it with no olives or onions. I don't know why they call it that, but it's delicious. Also I love getting a tofu gyro and asking for less onions than they would normally put on it. I have nothing against the taste of onions in the moment, it's just the aftertaste stays in my mouth for hours after and I hate it. What else? Oh yeah, I really wish they had veggie sushi more often.
Ali: Veggie sushi? What is that?
Me: ...Sushi that has veggies in it. It has, like, cucumber, avocado, sometimes carrots, and probably some other stuff. Because they don't have it that often, what I also love out of the sushi is the crunchy "spicy" california roll. I love Naked juices too.
Ali: What's your favorite flavor?
Me: Okay, for flavor, probably strawberry banana, but the one I get most often— cause I feel like I already eat a lot of bananas— is the red machine. What about you?
Ali: The blue machine, and then the green one. I don't know what it's called— kale blast, or something like that? And the strawberry banana is good too.
Me: Yeah. I also love Ritz bits. I also love Smartfood. Uh… those are the things that I get most often from DeCafe. Am I missing something?
Ali: Do you get any items from the freezer?
Me: Oh! All the time I get hummus and pita or chips and salsa.
Ali: Okay, yeah. They have good mochi. I still have some in my room, in the freezer. The strawberry one is really good. I highly recommend it.
Me: Nice, nice. Maybe I'll try that. Oh, they have SkinnyPop now, which I love, the popcorn brand. They also have microwave popcorn. I love popcorn, so I'll slide those into the mix.
Alright, let's move on to Stevie.
Ali: Stevie is definitely my favorite dining option on campus, 'cause it's the most buffet. As an athlete, I like to eat, especially as a strength athlete. The good thing about Stevie is you can use one swipe and you can get literally as much as you want, so you can go back up as many times as you want. I usually get like three or four plates when I'm not doing a shred. If I'm just eating normally, or if I'm bulking, I normally get like four or five plates at a time, and nobody can tell you that you can't get that many.
Me: Apparently they made a new rule that you can only take out two—
Ali: Plates or to-go things?
Me: To-go things.
Ali: Oh, okay, yeah. I dine in all the time. So I like Stevie a lot. They've got a huge variety of options. I've seen you at the vegetarian one. So they got a vegan one— I don't eat there. They got a pizza one— I don't eat there either. They got a… whip fire grill, I think? Or whip something grill, I think it's called.
Me: Smoke and Fire?
Ali: Yeah! Those are pretty good. They usually have some kind of nice meaty option, so they have hamburgers if you don't want anything else, but usually they have a mix of stuff. Today they had gyros, which are pretty good. And then they have all kinds of stuff! They have a seafood booth, which is really nice because I don't eat pork personally, so I like the fact that if I can't eat at the Smoke and Fire grill station, which is usually where I get my meat from, I can still go to the seafood. And then the sandwich bar is really nice. I always get two sandwiches: rye with pastrami, munster cheese and cheddar if they have both at the same time, sriracha, mayo, and regular mayonnaise.
Ali: Yeah, so I always get that, and then I get another one with sourdough, chicken and havarti cheese, and sometimes they have a green hummus. And I always get both of those toasted.
Me: It's so interesting to hear this… I knew we'd be a good contrast. So, first of all, I love pizza. So much. And I've been eating a lot of it. Most of the time, I don't go in thinking I'm gonna get pizza, and then I just see it and I'm like… Dang. I want some pizza. I also love pasta alfredo. What they don't say is that it's basically mac and cheese. I get oregano shakers on both of those. I always check out Roots, the vegan one. A lot of the time I don't really like how it looks… it kind of looks like, eh. Today I got something from there, though. It was just hummus and pita, which I eat all the time from DeCafe. The other day they had chana masala and lentils. I had just given up on Roots, and then my friend got it, and we were eating together, and I was like, damn. That looks good. What I most often get at Stevie is the salad. I love the salad that I get at Stevie! I get spring mix, romaine, red and green peppers, carrots, cucumber, and then tofu which is in this sweet and sour sauce that's so good that I don't get a dressing because I just mix it up and use the sauce as dressing. I love those salads. They make me feel so refreshed! Also, side note, I just feel like a majority of the vegetables on this campus are overcooked and too salty. The salad bar at Stevie is really refreshing to me because it's not cooked at all and it's not salty at all. The vegetable-ness of the vegetables has not been cooked out of them.
Also, we should talk about Biggs. Default smoothie order?
Ali: Yeah! Okay, what's yours?
Me: A large Bigg's Best but with blueberries instead of cherries and one spoon of hemp fiber powder. If I don't get that, I get a large Green Power, and sometimes I add one spoon of flaxseed. How about you?
Ali: I either get a large Smartberry with two scoops of plain whey, or I get the Pacific Squeeze, two scoops of plain whey, or the Green Power, two scoops of plain whey. So those are really good. I enjoy taking recommendations from my friends and trying new things— for example, I never would have gotten the Green Power if one of my friends hadn't recommended it to me. They make 'em really good. One of my favorite things about Biggs in general is like, when you walk in, you just smell smoothies before you even order. I enjoy that because it makes me excited to get the smoothie, you know?
Me: Yeah. As you're saying this, I can still taste the aftertaste of a smoothie in my mouth, and it's still kind of smooth in my throat. Love Biggs. I'm so grateful that I get to have smoothies in my life here. I feel like I wouldn't even eat fruit here if not. Oh, except something I left out about Stevie is that I always take so many bananas. I have a jar of peanut butter in my room and I like to eat them with that for breakfast.
Ali: Speaking of breakfast! I forgot to say this. Stevie breakfast is so good.
Me: I've only gotten it on weekends.
Ali: Yeah, actually today was the only day I've gone for breakfast on a weekday this semester. During the week, they stop breakfast at 10, and I came at like 9:40, so I was only able to get Cream of Wheat and two bowls of fruit, which was pretty good. I got a lot of brown sugar on my Cream of Wheat. On the weekends, though, they serve breakfast until all the way up until the early afternoon, so I usually get the pancakes, the scrambled eggs, and an omelet. Those are really good to me.
Me: That's a lot of eggs.
Ali: Yeah. My dad likes eggs. They're good sources of protein and they have a lot of vitamins in them. When they don't have pancakes, they have french toast, which is good too.
Me: True. I support Stevie breakfast on the weekends. I like to eat breakfast inside by myself on weekdays, but on the weekends I love getting pancakes, scrambled eggs, and the maduros— the plantains— so good. I'm so surprised someone in there knows how to make good plantains… but they do.
Ali: Do you also get the rice and beans for breakfast? It's in the same booth as the pancakes.
Me: Only one time that I've been there have they had rice and beans, but I got it that one time.
Ali: It was good, right?
Me: Uh, I think so. I don't even remember.
I just feel like we're so blessed to have enough food at our fingertips. Everyone always complains about CDS food, and I'm like, it's food.
Ali: Right. Be grateful for it.
Me: Also, I recommend going to Talcott and Clarity. Talcott is pretty good. It's a shot in the dark, but every place is a shot in the dark. I would say usually good. Clarity is also usually good. Sometimes they try something and they really pull it off. There's things they try that, you know, it doesn't go so well, but there's also things they try and it's like, wow. This is well seasoned, baked to perfection, impressive. Sometimes they impress me. Sometimes they don't, too, but such is life.
Any last thoughts?
Ali: I like the fact that on Sundays for dinner at Stevie you can get fried chicken, mac and cheese, and greens. It's nice to have fried chicken. We eat that at home. I don't get the mac and cheese here. It's not bad, it's just different from how my dad makes it, you know? My dad uses a lot of cheese and it's crispy, whereas here it's not as gooey. It's just like, macaroni laced in cheese, if you will. So I like the fact that they do have that at least.
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