Canteen conundrums: a survival guide.

By  and Piers Eeaton

College canteen culture can be difficult to adjust to: the mass-catered food, the crowded hall, and the constant pressure to chat. Here, returning Durham students reveal their top tips for surviving college food, in the face of their own unique culinary requirements.


By Kirsty Gledhill – 3rd year

As a vegan, I didn’t mind college food at all. However, a few of my vegan friends did struggle with college food, and feeding back to your college with suggestions for menu improvements can be helpful if you’re in a similar position. We also found it could be helpful to buy your favourite sauces or condiments, to help spice up and familiarise college meals. There aren’t many vegan puddings in college, so it may be worth buying something sugary to satisfy your sweet tooth, or using the college kitchens to bake yourself a treat! Otherwise, Durham is an amazing place to be vegan. Jumping Bean, Bean Social and the Green Guerilla stand in the market place are great vegan cafes, whilst places such as Spags, Zizzi’s, and Lebaneat have great vegan options. You’ll never have to miss out on a social because you can’t find anything to eat! Most importantly, befriend other vegans. Anything seems easier when someone is going through it with you.


“…try to make the most of your meal times, because you’ll be hankering for college company when second year rolls round.”

By Rebecca Russell – 3rd year

I loved college food, and found eating meals with other people an amazing way to cultivate
community. However, college canteens can be difficult for the introverted, especially in the first term of freshers, when more socialising occurs than eating! It can be helpful to have a couple of friends you can go to meals with, so when you don’t feel like telling someone what course you’re doing for the fiftieth time, you don’t have to. If you want a moment to yourself, bringing a book to the canteen generally assures a quiet meal-time; it’s also fairly easy to stock up on salads and fruit during lunch, to then eat in your room at dinner time. Even so, try to make the most of your meal times, because you’ll be hankering for college company when second year rolls round. If you’re really struggling with the intensity of socialising during meals, don’t fret. The frenzied friend-making simmers down after first term, and the dining hall becomes a very relaxed affair.


“It turns out that the chefs are happy to discuss dietary requirements with you; it’s okay to need something different!”

By Esther Gillmor – 2nd year

They say the enteric nervous system within the gut is like a second brain. My stomach
certainly has a mind of its own, so I found college food more difficult than for those with
less temperamental tummies. The first packed lunch ‘salad’ I had was a few leaves drowning in about seven handfuls of grated cheese. I can’t eat lots of cheese. I felt like such a nuisance asking for something different, so I didn’t push for a decent lunch that I felt I could eat. It turns out that the chefs are happy to discuss dietary requirements with you; it’s okay to need something different! The canteen can be very daunting when your stomach seems to be out to get you, and you can often crave the security of home-cooked meals. ‘Treats’ is a great cafe for traditional, comfort-food meals, and like any independent cafe in Durham, are fantastic at altering their menus to suit your needs. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for alterations!


By Roshan Jacob – 2nd year

Living in a self-catered college can be hard, but your first step should be to draw up a budget. Deciding where you want to shop is easier if you know how much money you have! Tesco Express is an obvious choice for shopping, but tucked away in Gilesgate is a Tesco Extra and a Lidl. Despite the long walk from college, by taking a bus or clubbing together on your corridor to get a delivery, you can make huge savings. You could also buy food in bulk, which saves the effort of constantly having to think about the next meal, and also adds an impressive number of points to your new best friend – a loyalty card. Don’t deny yourself the occasional restaurant experience though. Restaurants like ‘Fat Hippo’, ‘La Tasca’ and ‘Chiquito’ do great student discounts, and even a Dominos takeaway divided between flatmates is a good deal. Sharing the cooking amongst your flat-mates should give you the perfect college food vibe: many unexpected dishes, and a lot of great chat to wash it down!

Photograph: Robdurbar via Wikimedia Commons

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