Cup of noodles catastrophe

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February 16, 2007

3:18 PM

About a month and a half ago, academia — to say nothing of the entire planet — lost one of its greatest benefactors. Momofuku Ando died of heart failure on Jan. 5, at the age of 96. He was the inventor of instant noodles.

p. Ando’s creation was both the original and quintessential example of collegiate cuisine. The noodles hit shelves in Sept. 1971, just in time for a generation of well-off suburbanite teens to arrive at campuses everywhere with the frightening realization that they had no idea how to cook. And while this fear was often appeased by cafeterias — er, “dining halls” — there arose a slight urge for self-sufficiency that only the simplest of meals could satisfy.

p. For freshmen, and anyone else with a preternatural lazy streak, the guidelines for dormitory cooking are relatively straightforward—the food has to be microwaveable and take less than five minutes to prepare. It must also be self-contained, so as to prevent the unnecessary sullying of dishes, and its expiration date should be preferably long after one’s undergraduate career has come to a close, if not one’s post-doctoral studies. But most importantly, it has to be so astoundingly inexpensive that ordinary supermarket shoppers are afraid to touch it.

p. Indeed, it’s probably best to avoid reading the ingredients on any packages that boast a quick and easy prep time, fraught as they are with the unpronounceable chemicals that pricey organic companies enjoy pointing out. Yes, they’re called preservatives. Yes, they have more syllables than most Polish last names. And yes, they probably cause cancer in lab rats. But what doesn’t? If a strong dose of MSG is the downside to making dinner in two minutes, we’re all going to take our chances. We’re young and the obscene amount of sodium in Ando’s noodles is probably no worse for us than eating all the salt at the bottom of the pretzel bag. Who hasn’t done that once or twice? Oh, come on.

p. Ramen noodles heralded an era of previously unthinkable suppertime convenience, spotting a consumer trend for instant food that continues to this day and also launching a veritable fountainhead of successors. I may not have survived my freshman year without the bulk-sized box of Easy Mac under my bed, and I have Momofuku Ando to thank for that. Even the most health-conscious of my friends stocked a few of the familiar Cup Of Noodles, which have long been sold in user friendly, environmentally unfriendly Styrofoam containers. Sure, the peas and carrots in there aren’t “real” vegetables. But are they not green and orange, as they should be? Isn’t that enough for 39 cents?

p. When he heard of the noodle guru’s death, my housemate relayed to me a tale that had been passed down to him through a friend. This housemate is in his first year of law school and his older friend was a freshman at the College when this story supposedly happened, so it’s not exactly recent news. Though it’s clearly difficult to validate, I feel that it deserves to be recorded in the annals of the College folklore.

p. Legend has it that a graduate student once tended to one of the foot presses in Colonial Williamsburg. The student was a male, but he had very long, blond hair (I to envision a scrawny version of Fabio) which he refused to tie back. While working at the press one day, he bent down and found that his hair was caught in the press. This, of course, is a very dangerous piece of machinery, and if one’s hair starts feeding through it, it means almost certain death. Instead of finding an untimely demise in the gears of the archaic press, the grad student miraculously escaped unscathed; all of his hair had suddenly separated from his scalp, thus allowing him to go free.

p. What happened? Well, it was later revealed, says this friend of a friend, that the student’s diet had consisted of almost nothing but Ramen noodles for six months straight. This had led, slowly but inevitably, to a mild state of malnutrition whereby his scalp lacked the proper strength to keep his hair attached. If he had varied his eating habits, or even chanced to use some volumizing shampoo, the student may have met a different fate that day.

p. The bottom line is that instant noodles can save your life. After all, Momofuku Ando swore that he ate his original chicken noodle recipe at least once daily and he lived to see nearly an entire century. Of course, I’ll never advocate an all-Ramen lifestyle, but in honor of Mr. Ando’s dedication to sloth and gluttony, instant noodles will always have a place in my pantry. And, since they can probably last for centuries without spoiling, that place may be around longer than I will.

p. __Dan Piepenbring, a junior at the College, is a Staff Columnist. His columns appear every Friday. __

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