The notion of cafeteria food being gross and unappealing is not a new feeling. In fact, this was the case at Chapel Hill in the dining hall at Swain Hall. Swain Hall was the main dining hall on campus, long before Lenoir Dining Hall was established. Built in 1913, Swain Hall was an improvement on previous dining halls, but the food seemed not to appeal to the hungry Tar Heels. The food options included steak, gravy, fish, corn flakes, milk; options that are very similar to today’s options served during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. However, today’s food that’s served in the dining halls of Carolina is well cooked and prepared, unlike what students from the 1916 had to go through.

(May 16, 2018), “Dressing Room Gossip” in the Daily Tar Heel, Chapel Hill, NC

No matter what day of the week, the food served at the dining halls of Carolina is quality food that is nutritious while also offering good choices. The same cannot be said of the dining halls during the 1900-1919, which is the time period known as the Progressive Era. In fact, students during this time seemed to all agree that the food was not even edible. On May 13, 1916, as the school year is winding down, the Daily Tar Heel writes “Not much longer will we wrestle with steak so tough that the gravy will turn the edge of a knife… or even moisten our corn flakes with milk which verily hath the odor, the flavor, the aroma and all the essence of the onion,” putting an emphasis on how awful the food served during this time was. This excerpt from the Daily Tar Heel is very telling about how the students felt about the food, but also highlights the anticipation of summer break. The newspaper points out how students of all majors, whether it be chemistry, law, or philosophy, can bond over how awful the food was and how they can’t wait for summer to begin. This shows the sense of community that was present even back then, where the Carolina spirit was very much present and allowed for the students of the time to bond over the great things about the university, and the not-so-great things such as the food served. Fortunately for the present generation of students, bonding can happen over pleasant dining hall food.

By: Pablo Ancalle


“Dressing Room Gossip.” Daily Tar Heel, May 13, 1916.

Hysmith, KC. “A Longer (Tar Heel) Table: The Long History of Lenoir Dining Hall and Campus Food.” Names in Brick and Stone: Histories from UNC’s Built Landscape. Accessed November 7, 2018.