I make poor food decisions.
I once participated in a 2lb cheeseburger eating contest.
I would fill water bottles with Mexican cheese (queso) dip and carry them around with me if it was socially acceptable.
At my house, the five second rule has been generously extended to a minute and a half.
I ate a steak and cheese sub out of a vending machine when I was a mailman.
So it is with some degree of irony that I attempt to write about the food we get when we go to camp. I am not a culinary expert. I am not talking about the snack wagon/store/place you get candy bars. I am not talking about the meals that might be deemed “good” by the campers. I am strictly focusing on the food that will kill you if given the chance. The meals that are so dangerous to consume that you actually question the relationship with God that the cooks have. “Maybe they are backsliding. Maybe they are angry at God right now and decided to express that anger through this broccoli dish. Maybe that is it,” you think to yourself.
But regardless of the cause for the meal in question, there is no denying that we will all face them at some point in our camp going experiences. And when you do, I want you to know there are five things you need to look out for:
1. The cover it with cheese approach.
One trick that I noticed early on was the “cover it with cheese” approach. This is as simple as it sounds. Did you serve some kind of Tuna Casserole on Monday? Then put a thick layer of cheddar cheese on the leftovers and serve it on Thursday as “Tuna Queso Surprise.” No one will be the wiser.
2. The old oil approach.
I used to work at a company that had what we called “the death café.” I loved the guys that worked there and ate there all the time. But the trick was to make sure you ate there early in the week. Rumor was that they reused the cooking oil all week. So what was a fresh chicken strip on Monday was now not so fresh on Friday when it was cooked in oil that had also cooked Pollock, Cod, French Fries, Tater Tots, etc. I could never verify if this was true or not, by why gamble with your belly?
3. The fry it approach.
In college, my brothers’ fraternity purchased a deep fryer. Life would never be the same. That’s because there is a strange intoxication that comes over a person when they have access to a deep fryer. (It’s probably similar to how I feel about laminators. I would never leave the house if I had one.) You start out slow, frying standard stuff, like French fries and onion rings. And you love the crackle the oil makes, the color shift that occurs as frozen foods change from white to a muted yellow. But soon, that’s not enough for you. So you start frying other things. Things that have no business in a deep fryer. Things like candy bars and Twinkies and eventually, anything that is not nailed down. If you ever can’t identify a fried object in a camp cafeteria, walk away. Just walk away.
4. The international crisis approach.
Have you ever had a pizza burger? You shouldn’t, but I have eaten many in my day. Sometimes, camp chefs decide to mix different nationalities. So instead of just having pizza, typically seen as an Italian meal, or an old fashioned hamburger, arguably seen as an American meal they are available the world over, they combine the two. What you end up with is a mountain of ground beef, spaghetti sauce, some sort of mystery cheese and one half of a bun. It’s not quite a sloppy Joe, not quite a meat pizza. It’s basically just an international crisis. If you ever show up to eat and it’s “Mexican Sushi Night,” go back to your cabin as fast as you can.
5. The sandwich night approach.
My friend’s mom is brilliant. When he was growing up and she didn’t want to cook, she invented “make your own sandwich night.” Her kids thought it was a lot of fun and she didn’t have to do any of the work. The only problem when this is applied to camp settings is that often, the “make your own” idea is that sometimes it’s a move used to cloak something going on in the kitchen. An oven is broken, someone called in sick to work, a family of monitor lizards was found living in the soup mix closet. Something is amiss that is preventing some real cooking going on. So they throw the mic to you and ask you to remix your own sandwich. Be wary of this, be wary of this.
I promise that you probably saw some different secret camp chef techniques. But these are the ones I grew up with. And I stand by the belief that they will save you from many gastronomical nightmares.