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Students moaning about lockdown food should count their blessings

My university diet was woeful, but that's what student food is meant to be like

An apple. Some bread. A dab of jam. These are the kind of no-frills breakfasts that are currently being delivered to the doors of students isolating in their dorms inside university halls of residences across the country.

The students, through social media, have been responding to these meals. And it would be fair to say many aren’t happy. “Like baby food,” said one about their meal deliveries. “Sweaty potatoes and white sludge,” was how one Edinburgh-based student described his dinner.

The pictures of the food attached to these posts would have shocked my 18-year-old self, ensconced as I was back then in the spartan environs of Woodlands halls of residence at the University of Teesside in the late 1990s. How I wish that somebody had delivered the fruit, vegetables and brown bread contained in these food parcels to my door in those far off days. Because, frankly, this current crop of lockdown students may just be the most well-nourished 18-year-olds that have ever experienced higher education.

My memory of student food is still painfully vivid. Three years of cheesy chips in the union bar, reduced-to-clear pork pies and 2p tins of beans from Kwik Save, packets of Super Noodles with the texture and consistency of cardboard and, sod it, more cheesy chips.

This was the 1990s of course; the last decade when nobody gave a damn about their health and having a gym membership was considered to be a bizarre, narcissistic oddity. Yet, even in those less enlightened times, I think my friends and I all knew that our diets were woefully poor.

And we had nobody to blame but ourselves. Even before the internet, cheap recipes were readily available in the glut of paperback student cookbooks that would be given, more in hope than expectation of actual use, by worried parents to their departing children, concerned that their offspring would return home for Christmas with advanced cases of scurvy. I certainly don’t recall ever using my own cookbook. Somehow, even when doing an arts degree that required me to be in lectures and seminars for a grand total of 10 hours a week, there never seemed to be time to cook. There was always a pub to drink in, a party to go to, a debate on the merits of the Stone Roses’ second album that simply had to be concluded.

There was never any kind of deliberate attempt to remain skinny and undernourished on my behalf. But I suspect that there was a subconscious acknowledgement I made at the time that my body was young enough to withstand some fairly sustained abuse. So I stopped worrying and ate more chips. And that’s what saddens me the most about the current spate of online complaints from students about their delivery meals.

Because, lockdown or not, your university days are not the time to be worried about a lack of roughage or variety to your diet. A student’s mind should be on higher things; like having as much sex as possible, arguing about Kurt Vonnegut, ditching all the clothes you wore in sixth form and paying scant regard to such mundanities as getting your five a day or paying back your loan.

To truly appreciate good food, you have to have gone through an era where you ate nothing but spectacularly bad food. A university education has long provided this opportunity.

And now, I am certain every mouthful of roast grouse, Dover sole or truffle oil I’m lucky enough to occasionally consume, feels all the better for the knowledge I possess of how microwave Yorkshire puddings and economy ham sandwiches taste in a filthy residential kitchen in Middlesbrough.

So, boring and frustrating as it must be to be locked in a small bedroom rather than attending an anti-Jordan Peterson rally or dancing awkwardly to Sleater-Kinney in the union nightclub, today’s students really need to reassess what’s important. “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new,” said Albert Einstein.

So never mind the apples. By reading your first Henry James while drinking Red Bull and eating Monster Munch you’re combining the new and the ­mistaken to glorious, and highly educational, effect.

What did your diet consist of when you attended university? Tell us in the comments section below