Yeshiva Memories: The horrible food

There was an article in one of the Jewish papers recently(if anyone knows where please tell me- I think it was the Jewish Press), that talked about the poor quality of yeshiva food, and what steps could be taken to make sure yeshiva students had nutritious food. Yeshiva food no matter where you go is known to be inedible crap, it is also known that one who attends yeshiva develops alternative ways to survive through those long hunger filled days. Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t running through mine fields to the rice drop, but it is similar to walking down the stairs to the lunch room, gagging and returning to your dorm to eat a snickers bar or some deli meat and bread.

In my yeshiva we had the same thing every day for breakfast. Corn flakes, bread, hardboiled eggs and if you were lucky, oatmeal. Of course everyone had their own cereal and until the yeshiva stopped holding of the bakery in town, two bochrim sold bagels. Lunch varied, but most of the time it had something to do with crunchy noodles and burnt cheese, pizza wasn’t bad- although it seemed like the top from the garlic dispenser became dislodged every time and if you wanted any of the good stuff you had to get there early. For dinner, there were wings, which became pyramids as a testament to the hunger contained in young yeshiva boys, some nights we had spaghetti and meatballs and some nights half dead chickens with feathers still attached. It was interesting, especially to watch the spoiled kids be reduced to comrades in the food line, yeshiva food was like Communism, everyone got their fare share and everyone starved together.

Of course, like any equal society there were many classes of people. There were those who’s parents had sent them shipments of Salamis and the fattest hot dogs you have ever seen from Romanian in Chicago. Then you had the kids with bottles of olives, Dijon mustard and deli meat to make the dinner a bit better. Then you had the sauce kids- these were the kids that had condiments to make the pain of yeshiva food go away, after all there is nothing quite like some good hot sauce or barbeque sauce to make the chicken taste a little less like bubble wrap.

Having poor tasting food had its advantages, it spurred a whole bunch of food business within the yeshiva. It seemed like everyone was getting on the bandwagon. There were vending machines selling those packaged cakes from Brooklyn. I had mentioned the kids who sold bagels at breakfast. For some time there was a business called Lackeys Deli, which sold deli sandwiches at dinner. The enterprise was basically made up of empire packaged meats, dole salad, a few generic condiments and some dinner rolls- you could buy yourself a sandwich and the proprietors made some great profit.

No yeshiva food experience would be complete without the barbeque. In our school we had these concrete ledge that supported the air conditioning units located right behind the beis medrish. In the warmer weather guys would all hang out with their small gas grills and make hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken and of course steak. It was a sloppy environment run in its beginnings by a group of hotheaded Bahcarian kids who reminded me of the Greaser guys in movies like American Graffiti and The Outsiders. For some reason they used to control the prime barbeque real estate, and were always looking for a fight while listening to the most horrendous sphardi techno money can buy, they also had a penchant for flipping over bunk beds and making them into punching bag supports and pull up bars.

Everyone looked forward to shabbos of course, because while the food wasn’t all that improved, some of the more enterprising folks like myself had developed skills in order to escape the yeshiva food doldrums and possibly eat out at someone’s house. During my first couple years in yeshiva I waited until I got lucky and a Rabbi or Kollel guy would ask me if I wanted to dine in their home. Of course I did, and I would have dined in the “in towners” homes as well had I been friendlier to them.

As time went on I realized that I had underestimated the impact of merely requesting my own meals, rather then waiting what seemed like eternity to be asked out. Its kind of like in secular society when waiting for a girl to ask you out, it rarely happens, so too with meals it rarely happened. So I started making sure that when my hosts said “call us up for a meal anytime” they weren’t full of it and really wanted me to. I did research as to who meant it and didn’t. I then became what I would call the meal getter. The guy who gets meals and is appointed by the host as the guy to bring three friends along, it’s a valuable position you know, like the CEO or something, you hook someone up with a meal and they owe you, simple as that.

Besides for getting invited out there were other ways to “chop some free food” as they would call it, and I still utilize the skills I am about to teach you. There is a certain time at every meal when the main course is on the table, but most people are finished, the talking is lively and then someone starts clearing. The goal is to “happen by” during this time. If the food is not cleared yet, the people you stop by usually saying “I was just in the neighborhood” will feel inclined to offer you a plate. It is very important to build up your confidence, because most people will refuse the prize they came for, out of guilt or self consciousness. You mustn’t cop out and you must seize the prize, it is imperative to your mission, and later on after waking up from your shabbos shluf you will realize your grave mistake.

Another strategy used was the- find out where a meal with a lot of guests- will be taking place. Then of course you can approach the host directly, and either get on with it or pull out your best hints. You can also ask if you may stop by for desert, that always opens the door, because like mentioned above you will make sure to stop by slightly prior to desert.

I also made sure to always keep in mind whenever the family said I could take leftovers back with me. The yeshiva was not in the eruv, so that meant I would have to come back another time, which in turn meant that I would probably get to eat with the family on a weeknight. One of the rarest things for a yeshiva guy to do is eat out at someone’s house on a weeknight, that is a real skill if you can pull it off.

As always I want to hear your stories.