True love found in the cafeteria

June 24, 2016


Samford University dining - Leslie Anne Tarabella
My college son returned home for the summer and I could tell he’d found a new love back at Samford University. It was a shock to realize he’d actually become quite fond of not one, but several ladies on campus. It’s true. The cafeteria staff has stolen my son’s heart.


2-Male-Students-Eating-in-the-Caf-HeaderIt’s difficult for me because there’s no way I’ll ever live up to their choice of four gourmet pizzas, endless omelet bar and made-to-order Southwest Arroz Verde with roasted red pepper confetti. I don’t even know what that is. For a touch of home, they throw in “better than granny’s” pot likker collard greens. My generation’s cheap-o macaroni and cheese meals between study halls are long gone and upscale cuisine is the hip thing for today’s collegiate crowd.


During a required, “Concepts of Fitness and Health” class last year, college kid thought his professor was a genius when he told the students their beloved sugary sweets were a health no-no. Let’s see, where had my son heard that before? Maybe from me about 5 million times?  Growing up in South Alabama where people literally toss candy and Moon Pies to children in the streets, my innocent boy had long ago been lured into the jittery hallows of Candy Land, where we spent years trying to rescue the boy.

 College dining program - Leslie Anne Tarabella

I remember when I frantically called my husband at his office one day and said, “You’ll never believe what I found hidden under your son’s mattress. . . candy wrappers!” I didn’t understand why my husband breathed a sigh of relief and said, “is that all?”, but nevertheless, we had to watch the kid like a hawk.


Passing the fitness class with flying colors, my lanky 6’2” child morphed into an exercise guru and returned home as a muscular hulk who informed me he needs 4,000 calories of protein-rich, low-fat, tree-bark meals a day — more than he consumed as a baby. “I can’t possibly cook that much food for you. I’ll be in the kitchen all day.” I told him. “But mom, ‘The Caf’ is open all day and even when it’s closed I can go to the deli and the ladies there will fix me any kind of sandwich I want made on gluten-free or whole wheat bread.”


A woman with food who’s always available? I was beginning to see what I was up against.


The first week my brawny boy was home, he ate and worked-out at the gym non-stop. My kitchen was a wreck, with dishes piled in the sink and there were no clean forks in the drawer, including for some unknown reason, the tiny seafood forks. “Did I tell you how incredible The Caf’s asparagus is?” My Snicker loving kid was suddenly gooey-eyed over asparagus? Who is this health-nut they sent home to me?


My husband and I mentioned the possibility of a summer job, but were told there wasn’t time for that since it would interfere with his work-out schedule. After picking ourselves up off the floor in a heap of laughter, his father shared a few loving words of encouragement, and Schwarzenegger Jr. changed his mind and found gainful employment and also registered for a few classes at the local college, which somehow gave me a better attitude about making 2 trips a day to the Piggly Wiggly.


In addition to constantly feeding my son anything he wants, the charming Caf ladies also have a magical conveyor belt that whisks dirty dishes into an unknown realm, never to be seen again, so I was forced to provide a refresher-course on how to wash dishes, which he now does most of the time . . . well, some of the time, therefore restoring yet another portion of peace to our home.


With a tiny bit of jealousy, I know it will only be a matter of time until my second son also leaves home and gives his stomach away to another. I’ve realized the old adage is very true —  the way to a college man’s heart is through the all-you-can-eat meal plan.



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