Gnocchi, sweet gnocchi, that gooey, starchy, melt in your mouth gnocchi, that sort of soft, rich, potato-based pasta, that Italian delicacy few crave as I do. Sitting here at my computer on the third floor of Frost, glancing out the window toward the near wing of Valentine dining hall, I’m thinking to myself: could it be tonight, gnocchi, that I find you waiting for me at the pasta bar?
Please, students of Amherst College, let there be no more shitting on Val. I will be the first to admit that if UMass’ Berkshire dining hall were the Boston Red Sox of baseball, then Val might find its place on the spectrum at the Portland Sea Dogs. Colby or Bowdoin, quite similar schools to Amherst, might be considered the Yankees and the Phillies on the food scale. However, among these comparisons, which I so often bear witness to (like, oh my god, the food at UNH is sooo good… why does Val suck so much?) I don’t often hear mention of schools with worse dining halls than ours – like say, Hampshire College’s Saga, which supposedly would meet the spectrum on par with Amherst High School’s JV team. Amherst, despite seemingly popular opinion around here, and yes, despite its various shortcomings, cannot be the worst dining hall in America. Yet I am already betraying my own request – I’m shitting, at least a little bit, on Val.
Vodka sauce, unfortunately, will not get you drunk. That isn’t to say, however, that it isn’t capable of causing a bunch of lacrosse players to jump around like idiots. I’ve seen it. My group of friends goes wild for Val’s vodka sauce, and from general observation I glean that it’s quite popular campus wide. There are few instances of jubilation so sudden and spirit-lifting as scanning the pasta bar to find that reddish-pinkish-orangey-colored concoction present beside the marinara/bolognese staples. Valentinos a la vodka always makes for a great night.
Perhaps Val lacks the every-day choices of burgers, chicken fingers or french fries that many college dining halls supply regularly. Maybe it lacks the most variable menu in the world. Perhaps it implants a few too many pain-inducing laxatives in its coffee, and perhaps I have had to pick cottage cheese out of my applesauce too many times to count. Yes, Val comes up short in many ways. However, these epitomize first-world problems. That isn’t to say that Val can’t and shouldn’t improve—because that should always be the goal—but Val has made significant strides recently and continues to do so. I’ve heard some particularly frightening horror stories about what the lighter side chicken looked like before I started going here. I remember the days when the entire operation closed at 7:30 on weekdays. They recently added cocoa pebbles to our cereal options! Plus, while it may not be a concern of mine or ours all the time, Val does try to give us healthy and nutritious options on a daily basis. The staff is generally friendly, outgoing and helpful. Please, let’s drop the hate.
A solar eclipse usually occurs, somewhere on the planet, once in every 18 months or so, if that. Furthermore, a solar eclipse will occur in the same place only once in about every 400 years. The precision of alignment between the moon, sun, and Earth required to view a solar eclipse happens so rarely that astronomy buffs wet themselves at the thought of witnessing one. Yet, no astronomical occurrence or uncanny alignment, no matter how incredible or rare or exciting, will ever affect me as deeply, emotionally, or joyously as on those nights when (praise the Lord!) gnocchi and vodka sauce align in Val. It is on those nights, that I, with a plate full of delectable, spicily-sauced, mouth-watering gnocchi a la vodka, look around myself and realize what many of us rarely allow each other and ourselves to: at times – and, actually, quite often – I am truly grateful for Valentine dining hall.