How the elite college students eat

Steve the hasher was serving our table in the college dorm dining hall.”Hey, Steve,” said one of my table mates. “You’ve got your thumb in the mashed potatoes.”

Steve said, loudly, “I’m the only guy here who will admit he masturbates.” Then he plopped the bowl on the table.

I skipped the mashed potatoes that evening.

Dining at Stanford has gone upscale, according to How Students Eat Now in Stanford Magazine.

During the past decade, Stanford has built one dining commons and renovated older ones, replacing “cook and park” steam tables with stations where items are made to order. They’ve recruited chefs with a flair for vegetarian and ethnic cuisines, as well as experts in food safety, nutrition and allergen-free cooking.

At one dining area, students can watch their meals being prepared through a glass wall, then go upstairs to browse “an expansive salad bar topped with white ceramic bowls of organic oranges.”

On the back wall, a pizza oven blazes. Whole chickens, rubbed with pungent fresh oregano, twirl slowly on the rotisserie.

The executive chef, David Iott, worked at Ritz-Carlton hotels before coming to Stanford.

There are no plastic cafeteria trays, except upon request. Instead, diners stroll around holding china plates, as they would at a hotel buffet. Hormone-free skim milk, fair-trade Starbucks coffee and Crysalli Artisan Water are on tap. A Pepsi machine is tucked away in a corner. “We have to have that,” Iott says, a bit sadly. Then he brightens as he points out roasted organic carrots and an array of miniature decorated cheesecakes.

An elite university needs high-quality food service, says Eric Montell, executive director of Stanford Dining. The magazine adds, “From New Haven to Berkeley, American universities are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into environmentally sustainable residences and dining facilities.”

I thought universities were trying to control costs so college will be financially sustainable for students and their parents. All that overpriced organic food and Artisan Water will turn into student debt.

Stanford undergrads pay $1,700 to $2,000 per quarter — up to $6,000 a year — for their miniature cheesecakes and Starbucks coffee. That doesn’t cover the full cost. Of course, most students receive financial aid to defray the cost of tuition, room and board, but fancy eats means the aid won’t go quite as far.

The greatest food in human history is the McDouble cheeseburger, writes Kyle Smith in the New York Post, quoting a Freakonomics commenter. McDonald’s McDouble is nutritious (390 calories, half a daily serving of protein) and usually sells for $1.

About Joanne


  1. They need all this good food to have energy to burn over at the rock wall/spa.

    Stanford’s a private university; if people want to pay for that, more power to them. But since *I* help pay for UC Berkeley, it bothers me that it’s becoming more like a country club.

    • Darren,

      Given that Type II diabetes (adult-onset) is growing the largest among teenagers and young adults, it’s not really an issue if these types want to eat themselves
      into a coronary or end stage organ damage 🙂

      I’d say that if researchers did a full-blown study
      on the eating habits of college students, they’d
      find that this age group (typically under 30)
      probably has some of the worst dietary habits
      known to mankind.

  2. My kids’ flagship state schools (two different) had similar options, particularly when the younger two were in school. Even so, they cooked for themselves – floor kitchen or room refrigerator and toaster oven- after the first semester, and they lived in PRIVATELY-OWNED, ALL-STUDENT apartments (schools don’t need to build or own) after that. Of course, they knew how to cook, so could make inexpensive, healthy meals without much effort – not an option for those kids who can’t cook beyond box mixes and other expensive, unhealthy options.

    If they’re so green, why aren’t the kids drinking plain old tap water – in reusable bottles? My kids did and still do.

    • momof4,

      I live in the southwest, and the only reason I generally
      don’t drink tap water is that the water’s hardness (even softened) leaves a bad taste in the ole mouth.

      Though I refill my gallon jugs for a quarter each at the
      local ‘Sprout’s’ market (used to be ‘Sunflower’) and
      the taste is quite good, and I usually drink it after I
      get done walking most mornings or when I’m in
      front of the computer for a long stretch 🙂

  3. This would only be in the student dining halls, which students mostly only use if they live in dorms. It must have shot the price of dorm living up even more. Do Stanford students live in dorms the whole time? I think maybe they do.

    I used to work at the dining commons at Berkeley. I’d be interested to hear details about what Cal is doing as opposed to Stanford–it mentions Berkeley but has no specifics. I remember the tap water tasting quite good. The milk was fantastic. The food was pretty mediocre cafeteria-type stuff, and there was always a good salad bar and a vegetarian option. That seems perfectly adequate to me (OK, not the eggs, those were scary). A student wanting to eat organic and vegan and so on is quite free to do so in the freedom of his own apartment–or even in the dorm at his own expense. There are mini-fridges and kitchenettes.

    Allergens are something I’m very sympathetic to. Most students however should be fine if simple precautions are taken to label food clearly and avoid cross-contamination.

    Perhaps there could be a special fancy dining commons that serves cheesecakes and Starbucks, and it can cost a whole lot extra!

    • A high percentage of Stanford undergrads live in the dorms because off-campus housing is so expensive. Stanford has built quite a bit of graduate student housing too.

      When my daughter was a senior, she shared a dorm apartment with a kitchenette with three other girls. I think she was the only one who didn’t buy a meal plan and just cooked for herself.

      • I see; thanks for the info. Berkeley just doesn’t have that many dorms, and when I was there even the cheapest dorm room (which I had) was more expensive than an apartment. But rent prices are much much higher now, so I wonder how it compares. My cheapest dorm room is also long gone, come to think of it. Throw in the incredibly high tuition, and it’s no wonder I’ve given up on the dream of making my kids into 4th generation Cal students…

  4. The best part of my college dining hall was the ice cream. The school had an ag college, with a large dairy program, and student-made ice cream. It couldn’t be sold at a profit, so was in every dining hall in self-serve open freezers, every lunch and dinner – whatever yummy flavors the kids made. All you could eat. And there was an on-campus dairy bar on the main campus; 5 cents per scoop – alas, it’s gone now. The ice cream was so good that the original Ben&Jerry’s bought their ice cream base (faculty-made, so could be sold for profit) from the school for many years, until they built their own factory.

  5. Kirk Parker says:

    Still have the slightly-pale-blue skim milk?? Blah, then nothing important has really changed.

  6. Kirk Parker says:


    Berkeley … I remember the tap water tasting quite good.

    Any idea if the east side gets in on San Francisco’s fabulous water supply?