Sophie Tevlin is double-checking you have your packed lunch.
It’s hard to navigate UCD. On a bad day, the campus can seem hostile, bewildering, deeply strange – a space designed to repress and contain its student population for fear of 1970s-era riots, rather than a space designed to house and nourish. It’s hard to feed yourself in UCD. It’s easy to go hungry. Food on campus is prohibitively expensive, totally inadequate – nothing like the subsidised canteens in other European universities. For students taking their first tentative steps into adult life, struggling to pay rent, living from paycheck to paycheck, fighting poor mental health and eating disorders, proper nutrition becomes a battle. Koka noodles. That one pasta dish you actually know how to cook that has to do you for the week. The overpriced takeaway at the end of a night out, when you’re too drunk to tamp down the hunger any longer, that you berate yourself for buying the next morning when you can’t afford to top up your leapcard. At least the leftovers mean you have breakfast for once. The SU will give you a lunch voucher, if you’re willing to walk into their office and tell a stranger you can’t afford to eat. I’ve eaten beech nuts from the trees beside the O’Reilly Hall before. A friend of mine pays eight thousand euro a year to live in Ashfield student residence in a flat without an oven.
In circumstances like these – in the neoliberal hellscape that is contemporary life - it becomes quietly radical to just take care of yourself. To feed yourself. To learn to cook. To invite your friends to dinner. To share the bread you baked with your housemates. To feel the joy that comes from eating something delicious, the joy of creation, the joy of nourishing yourself and the people around you, the joy of letting the soft animal of your body love what it loves. We all deserve good food. Man cannot live by Clubhouse chips alone. So with that in mind, here are some lunch ideas for the hungry UCD student. Portable, cheap, filling and tasty. Is this going to revolutionise your life? I’m afraid not. You’re going to have to do that yourself. It’s just some potato salad. But it’s a start. And it is – and I cannot stress this enough – some very, very nice potato salad.
Boil or steam some new potatoes (the ones in the microwavable bag that cook in their own steam are ideal for this) and chop into bite size pieces. Add some finely chopped scallions, salt and black pepper, and enough mayonnaise to liberally coat each piece. Voila! It’s that easy. Homemade potato salad, still slightly warm, is incomparably better than the chilly pallid supermarket versions. If I’m feeling rich that week I might add a spoonful of crème fraiche and some chopped dill, but it’s good as it is. Feel free to mess around with potato/onion combinations til you find your favourite – I’m also fond of floury potatoes and long strips of mild Spanish onion. The stronger the onion, the finer you’ll need to chop it to stop it overwhelming the other flavours. You can add parsley, chopped bacon, Quorn smoky ham, sliced boiled egg – whatever you fancy. A lunchbox of this refrigerates well, and doesn’t need to be heated up – eliminating the need to spend fifteen minutes of your lunch hour fuming in the queue for the microwave.
Buy a loaf of Tesco olive bread and fill it with sundried tomatoes, preserved artichokes, spinach leaves and soft garlicky cheese, then wrap up the uneaten half for your lunch. Bring in sachets of miso soup and get hot water from one of the cafes. Take a leaf out of Ruby Tandoh’s book and roast long strips of aubergine and red pepper with whole unpeeled garlic cloves in olive oil til they’re oozingly tender, then unwrap the garlic and squish it with some lemon juice to make a dressing. You can add some natural yogurt if you’re feeling it. Then toss everything with pasta and, if you haven’t added the yoghurt, crumbled feta cheese. Bon appetit. Mind how you go.