Auburn News

No more mystery meat

While this story was originally slated for our fall issue of Auburn Magazine, spacing issues required that it be cut down significantly. However, we still wanted to share this story with you in its entirety, so today we are featuring it on the blog. Whether it be our magazine or the blog– happy reading! War Eagle!


Auburn alumni are apt to wax nostalgic about campus traditions ranging from Tiger Walk to Toomer’s Drugs lemonade, but a battered-and-browned poultry cutlet oddly named “Maryland fried turkey”—served regularly in the old War Eagle Cafeteria during the ’70s and ’80s—rarely makes the list.

“I mean, who has ever heard of Maryland fried turkey? The first quarter, I didn’t even eat it,” Kathleen Saal ’83 recalls with a chuckle. “It was just a joke.”

A quarter century later, food is serious business on campuses nationwide, where college and university food-service administrators must juggle competing priorities, including maintaining nutritional standards, decreasing waste, offering quality food at reasonable prices and building comfortable, restaurant-like eating spaces where students can not only eat but also socialize with each other.

Today’s students—who spend upwards of $3,800 annually on food, according to University Business magazine—want made-to-order meals that they can witness being cooked or plated, says Portland, Ore.-based food-service management consultant Joyce Fasano. They also prefer broad operating hours and lots of meal options.

To meet the demand, Auburn now boasts 29 eating venues in eight campus locations to serve the needs of its 25,000-plus students. Breakfast and coffee stops open at 7 a.m., and a Denny’s restaurant outpost in The Village residence complex serves late-night customers until 1 a.m. Students who live on campus must purchase a $995 meal plan each semester to cover their meals, while students living off campus pay $300.

Communication disorders major Laura Howard lives in an apartment off campus but typically eats lunch with her classmates twice a week in Auburn’s Student Center, which opened in 2008.

“It’s a fun time to not think about school, and hang out and laugh,” she says.

Auburn students may now treat themselves to sushi, grilled shrimp quesadillas, blueberry pancakes and turkey sandwiches topped with cranberries and Brie cheese. Popular chains, including Chick-fil-A, Starbucks and Au Bon Pain, are represented in the Student Center food court.

As part of his campaign for Student Government Association president earlier this year, finance major Kirby Turnage called for Chick-fil-A’s campus location to open earlier and add chicken biscuits to its list of menu options. He won.

“Today’s dining options look way better than when we were in school,” says Scott Goolsby ’00, who visits campus on game days. “The new student union doesn’t even compare to what we had.”

When Betty Burgess ’65 attended Auburn, women were required to live on campus and purchase 21 meals a week from dining services.

“My mother was a widow, and if she paid for those meals, I would be expected to eat at the dining hall,” says Burgess, who also adhered to the accepted dining hall dress code: skirts and dresses only, plus heels on Sunday.

In the early ’60s, students could choose from only two dining venues, either in the Foy Student Union, built in 1954, or Terrell Hall, which debuted in 1962. French toast was a weekend treat if one woke up early enough to get to the cafeteria in time for breakfast, Burgess says.

“I’m sure we griped about the food sometimes and talked about the mystery meat, but overall we were OK with it,” she remembers.

And what about that culinary classic served to Auburn baby boomers during the disco era? Kaki Tucker Barto ’78, whose mother, Inez, ran the old War Eagle Cafeteria in those days, recently posted the recipe for Maryland fried turkey on the Auburn Alumni Association’s Facebook page: Dip slices of baked turkey into a batter made of beaten egg whites (from one or two eggs), two cups of flour, one cup of milk, egg yolks, black pepper and salt, then fry in deep fat until golden brown. “A true Auburn favorite!”—Morgan McKean