This may only be my fourth semester here at Oberlin, but I can say with some authority that when it comes to food here, I've been around the block. I've tried pretty much every food option Oberlin has to offer. I've sampled the CDS Dining Halls, Decafe, the restaurants in town, and finally, this semester, I started eating at Kosher-Halal Co-op (KHC). Like many others, I've come to the conclusion that co-ops win hands-down as the best eating experience Oberlin has to offer.
There are tons of Obies who can attest to their amazing co-op experiences, and I've personally heard dozens of testimonials over the last year and a half. Eating at a co-op tends to be pretty high on the average bucket list; it's one of those quintessentially Oberlin experiences, up there with Feve brunches, Organ Pump, hanging out with albino squirrels, lounging around in womb chairs, and making friends with the parrakeets in the language lab.
Despite this, it took me a pretty long time to get on board. I will admit that I openly regarded the co-ops with some suspicion. It seemed fairly incredible to me that college students would be willing to cook and clean after themselves, and make not only great tasting meals, but healthy and nutritious ones too. After classes, work and procrastination, surely there was no time in the world for such miracles. I applied during the summer before my freshman year to be in a co-op, mostly at the insistence of my parents (something about "character-building"), but I dreaded it and was secretly glad when I didn't get in because it meant that I wouldn't have to deal with cooking and cleaning along with everything else that was daunting about college.
Instead, I ended up eating mostly at Stevie, since I lived right across the street. To be fair, it was a decent experience, particularly considering I had been raised on horror stories about college food; I expected strange-coloured gruel at best. Generally speaking there was always something good to eat, usually accompanied by a very long queue. Failing that, there were always the sandwich and salad bars. These ended up being my saving grace towards the end of the year, when I began to really hate Stevie food--mostly because I was desperately homesick. I wanted rice and fish and Asian delights, not strange American delicacies like Mac and Cheese. I was also highly suspicious of anything that claimed to be Asian, like the 'Vegan Singapore Street Noodles' I once saw there. (I think there are like, three vegans in Singapore, and it certainly didn't look anything like what you would get at a hawker's stall.)
To be fair, my high school really spoiled me for food options--a fact I only really understood after realising that having people make fresh naan everyday in a real tandoor is not a typical canteen experience. And that was just one of many, many options that I have come to appreciate in hindsight, including Subway-style build-your-own sandwiches, at least ten vegetable and meat options with rice, a Western food counter, fresh paninis off the press, an Asian noodles counter, along with your run-of-the-mill pizza and sandwiches. On top of that there was also the option of eating, among other things, fresh chicken rice (a Singaporean specialty involving, well, chicken and rice, but in the most delicious way possible) at the food court just a few minutes away from campus. So maybe I came in with a few unrealistic hopes about what kind of food I would be eating at Oberlin.
In my second semester I discovered the godsend known as Afrikan House, or A-House for short. Every once in a while I would try to convince my friends to trudge through the snow and ice all the way to South Campus (I'm not exaggerating; it's like a fifteen minute walk when there's snow on the ground). It was worth it, though, for the hearty (and decidedly rich) food, the superior salad and fruit bar, and of course the giant dessert bar. Unfortunately, though, A-House closes over the weekend, and it was such a long trek from North Campus that I only really went once a week at most.
Dascomb was decent, but I only really went there for Wing Night at Fourth Meal (for those days when you believe in the futility of fighting the "freshman fifteen" process). Decafe is great, but the lines get long and one only has so many flex points to spend on delicious smoothies. I've never tried Rathskeller, and I only really started going to Azariah's this semester. My one saving grace was the Science Cart, especially in the mornings, because I could eat a yoghurt parfait every morning and read the newspaper in peace.
Last semester, for a number of reasons, I ended up eating out. A lot. I worked at the library during lunch, and then I would eat my lunch at Subway everyday at some weird time, anywhere between two and four o'clock depending on when I finished work. I did this partly because I didn't know any better, and partly because I was extremely homesick that semester, and somehow thought that by eating at restaurants, I would at least have the ability to choose something I really wanted to eat. As a result, I ate at the strangest times, and never had a constant schedule. Some days I would have lunch at three pm and dinner at ten; other days I would simply skip lunch altogether, have a meal at five pm, and then snack my way through the night. It was awful, and I was often sick, but it never occurred to me that my eating habits might have something to do with it so I continued eating in a completely unconstructive way.
At the end of the semester, I decided enough was enough. My habits were becoming as destructive as an eating disorder, and I had to put a stop to it. I signed myself up for the OSCA Waitlist, and made myself two promises: that I would eat properly and regularly, and that I would teach myself to cook. Eating in a co-op would satisfy those two requirements beautifully, because co-op meal-times are strict: lunch at noon, dinner at six. You can ask someone to save you a plate, but food is always best hot off the stove. And you really can't eat at a co-op without figuring your way around a kitchen.
This has turned out to be one of the best decisions I've ever made here at Oberlin. There are so many reasons why I've fallen in love with Kosher-Halal, but here are my top few: I eat healthy, tasty and nutritionally balanced meals; I interact with a completely different set of people from my friend group who are fascinatingly diverse; I eat regularly and rarely feel the need to skip a meal; I've learnt to cook for forty people, and for myself; I'm no longer terrified of burning food to a cinder; and I'm apparently really good at chopping garlic. And most of all, I'm really, really happy. So add me to the list of people who rave about the co-ops, because they really are (to use an outdated American expression) the bees' knees.
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