A Love Letter to the Pre-COVID Dining Hall

Peregrine-Dining-Hall
Peregrine Dining Hall has been grab and go for the fall semester, with students. Students are still uncertain what it will be like this spring. Photo courtesy of SUNY New Paltz.

Unpopular opinion: I love our campus dining hall.

Okay hold on, let me backup, since I’m sure some of you are already rolling your eyes.

I love the New Paltz dining hall BEFORE the COVID-19 pandemic. The one I could stroll into at 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning for brunch with my friends and stay there for hours talking of our weekend endeavours. The dining hall that laid out placemats and hearts on Valentine’s Day. The one where students would clap at the prospective students while they were in there taking a tour. I do NOT love the dining hall where we walk in with plastic tins to collect our 70 calorie salad ‘lunch.’

I know few share the passion I do for Peregrine Dining Hall, and I envy you students. It hurts me to see the dining hall like this after how much I loved it last year. The dining hall was one of the main reasons I chose to come to New Paltz. No, seriously. I took three tours of New Paltz before committing and everytime we went through the dining hall it was my favorite part. I always thought it felt so warm and welcoming; I would see students congregating and giggling, and it made my chest feel fuzzy. The dining hall made me think “wow, I actually can do this whole college thing.” 

I’m currently a sophomore, so you can imagine the dining hall was a big part of my experience as a first-year student. Sometimes, I used the dining hall as a social event. I would eat my dinner around 5 p.m., a normal time for me, then would return with friends who liked to eat during the late night hours. I didn’t get dinner for a second time, but since I had unlimited swipes, I would go and enjoy the company of some good friends.

Other times I would go alone. I would find a high top table where I could destress and have some time to think and eat by myself. I would leave the hall feeling refreshed and ready to take on the rest of my day. On even rarer occasions, I would go alone, find someone sitting alone, sit with them and make a new friend. 

I always laughed along at the jokes people made about the food, or the moans people had if they ran out of their dining dollars and were forced to eat at Peregrine, but I never agreed. I thought the menu was always good and even as a vegetarian I always had something to eat. Most of all, I always felt the dining hall was doing everything they could to make students happy — from Italian themed dinners to Bingo nights. I want to give a kudos to the chefs, workers and all those involved in coming up with creative and fun dining days. Your efforts paid off, you made a girl who was terrified about being away from home really happy.

Sadly but understandably, Peregrine this year is #NotMyDiningHall. I haven’t been to the dining hall this semester since August. The last time I went, the menu was full of meat options that I couldn’t have. I settled on rice and was served one spoonful. I ate under the tent and got attacked by bees and was hungry again within twenty minutes. So I shoved that green tin under my bed and didn’t go back. I would give it another try, but honestly it would make me sad. Everytime I walk near the complex, I get a deep ache in my chest for how much I miss the old dining hall, the one that took care of me and my eating needs.

For the record, out of the $1,100 dining dollars I had to spend this semester, I’ve only used $96. I was never one to spend my dining dollars because I thought I ate the healthiest at Peregrine. Without all the options at Peregrine that I had gotten accustomed to, I’ve been surviving off of groceries from Tops. It’s expensive, and not satisfying. 

I think there are ways the dining hall can still be fun and nutritious this year, even if we aren’t allowed to sit and eat in it. I also think whoever was in charge of that last year should put their heads together and brainstorm, because it feels like the dining hall has forgotten about us students this semester. I know there’s a pandemic happening, but we’re still students away from home, we need to eat and be taken care of.

Until things liven up or the menu expands a bit, I don’t think I’ll go back. Maybe not ever, if I move off campus next year. But Peregrine, I’ll never forget what we once had and I will always love you deep down.