What Grinds My Gears: Dining Hall Carrots

For the last three years, there has remained a long-standing joke in my family whenever I come home. It comes up if we go out to eat, when my mom asks what we want for dinner, at the grocery store. A dish set down before me or a new item on the menu causes me, with wide, hesitant eyes, to inquire,

“Are there carrots in it?”

Sometimes my mom forgets and she’ll go in her classic maternal outburst about how all her children are such picky eaters, that making dinner that will please everyone is impossible. But for me, my aversion to carrots doesn’t stem from some senseless childhood disliking of all things vegetable. In fact, for most of my life I actually liked carrots. No, this has been a more recent development, with a very specific origin.

It’s a cold, rainy college day. I’ve trudged my way through pellets of rain and sludgy muddy pathways to finally make it into the solace of Mesa Court Dining Hall. I’m sick. I’m sleepy. And all I want is a hot bowl of comforting tomato soup. I pour myself a bowl and settle in at one of the tables for what I hope will be the liquid version of a warm hug.

Now imagine my horror when that bowl of tomato soup is in fact full of carrot slices.

This is just one melodramatic retelling of countless meals I endured freshman year that were tainted by unwarranted carrot appearances. Soup, lasagna, sandwiches, enchiladas — if there was a dish served that allowed for an agricultural amalgamation, you better guarantee that carrots will be in there too.

For most of the year, it was just a running joke between my friends and I, a game of sorts, to see what off-kilter way the dining halls will figure out how to serve carrots this time. We would come up with theories that somehow there was a carrot surplus, so UCI was stuck with tons and tons of carrots to somehow consume that year. Maybe the story was darker, that there was some carrot conspiracy involving big agricultural corporations and the UC Regents!

I never did bother try to research this question at the time but now that I am writing this article, I figured it wouldn’t help to do some sleuthing, try to find out more on where the food served in the dining halls comes from in the first place. Surprisingly, this information is pretty unclear. The UCI Dining and Hospitality website lists the locations of all the dining options on campus, how you can get UCI to cater your event and what are the most vegan-friendly and healthy options on campus. But nothing on how that food gets here.

carrot-1031389_1920So I went to the Aramark website, knowing that they’re connected to our dining in some equally vague way. Their website, which is super confusing to a computer illiterate millennial like me, gives details on sustainability, career options and all of the benefits of having Aramark at your campus. Nothing specific about growing and preparation of all of this great food. At least nothing listed clearly and accessibly.

To me, this information should be easily attained. We shouldn’t just know where to eat and what they serve but really how these menus are created. What we put in our bodies, especially when living in such stressful mental states, highly affects our physical abilities. When so many of us rely on the dining halls for sustenance, transparency should be crucial. We should care about what we eat and hold the university accountable for either improving or harming our diets.

Yes, my carrot break-up is somewhat ridiculous but behind it hide some eyebrow-raising mysteries. Hopefully they’ll be answered before enough time passes and I can eat carrots again.
Savannah Peykani is a third-year Literary Journalism, Film and Media Studies double major. She can be reached at speykani@uci.edu.