Turns out the Athletics dining hall isn’t quite the culinary indulgence of which I’d dreamed.
I always thought the B.M. “Mack” Rankin Longhorn Dining Hall was one those clubby spots on campus where commoners could never set foot. It was the place of athletes. And gods. I just knew they had to serve food that mortal students like myself could only dream about, like lobster, prime rib, and seven-layer triple-chocolate cake.
As it turns out, anyone brave enough to barge in is welcome. As I tested my bravery not long ago, I instantly felt short, which as a 5-9” woman is no small feat. SportsCenter was blaring from the flat-screen TVs mounted above the large, round dining tables. Teammates often eat together, hence the need for eight seats per table, and it dawned on me I was going to look pathetic eating alone.
I forked over $8.50 to the cashier, who waved at the lucky athletes passing the pay station and heading straight for the buffet. No card-swiping for these VIPs—the cashier must memorize their faces.
But as I followed to the food, I was dumbstruck by what was missing. Where was the filet mignon? The tiramisu? The cheese souffle? The Beluga caviar?
Then I noticed something I hardly expected. Plastered all over the dining room were signs promoting healthy eating. The most prominent diagrammed exactly how an athlete’s plate was supposed to look: 1/3 fruits and vegetables, 1/3 grains and starches, and 1/3 sources of protein and dairy (and maybe a couple of fun foods. Maybe.)
The spread was wimpy, to say the least. Who would’ve thought that these Longhorn gods ate the same cold cafeteria food as us? I reluctantly piled ordinary macaroni and cheese, green beans, rice, and some mysterious round, green vegetables (which I later realized were Brussels sprouts) onto my plate. As I warily began eating, I was underwhelmed by the taste—or should I say tastelessness—of my meal. (Later, I learned from the dining-hall staff that the use of salt and pepper is greatly restricted. Go figure.)
As for dessert, don’t even breathe the word “cheesecake.” In the Longhorn Dining Hall, sweets barely exist. The only dessert I could get my hands on was some sort of disappointing gelatin concoction. There were Freshens Frozen Yogurt machines, but they were tragically—or purposefully?—out of order.
To my disappointment, the cafe of the Longhorn gods had turned out to be little more than a pricier Jester City Limits, and with fewer options!
And suddenly it hit me: although our athletes are celebrities in UT circles, with that prestige comes pressure. Everything they do—and eat—is strictly regimented.
I’ve seen inside the Longhorn Dining Hall, folks, and there is no lobster. They can keep the Brussels sprouts. I’ll hang onto my regular-student freedom—and head back to the pizza buffet.
Photo courtesy UT Athletics.
Laura Long Gardner:
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