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Lunch on the go: the rise of the pop-up food stall on campus

BySarah Henderson

Mar 14, 2016

Sarah Henderson investigates the increasing trend of pop-up food stalls around campus, and the impact it has upon student lifestyles.

Hungry students are a well-known feature of university campuses across the country. Offer a student free food at any event, and chances are that their interest will instantaneously increase significantly. Yet, instead of a slap-up sit down meal, students, with their busy schedules, are being inundated with a new variety of pop-up food stalls throughout campus, offering quick yet tasty on-the-go meals. Has interest in socialising and taking time over lunch been snuffed out by hectic schedules and the offers of interesting, quick, tasty fare?

The typical on-the-go stop for students looking for quick food has historically been that symbol of Italy: pizza. Dominos and their staff inundate freshers every year with their offer of a free slice of pizza, in exchange for waiting an inordinately long time in a queue. Their rivals, Papa John’s, are similarly very busy around lunchtimes, where students with enough time to visit wait 10 minutes for a large pizza which can either sustain one for a few days, or a few minutes depending on the level of ravenousness.

Yet students increasingly want a variety of cuisine options at lunchtimes, and not always of the typically unhealthy fast food variety. Walk around George Square and in the vicinity, and you will discover a whole host of tasty lunchtime options: from Union of Genius Soup, lovingly prepared and always popular, to Susie’s Vegetarian Wholefoods, offering vegetarian students wider lunchtime options compared to the typical cheese and tomato sandwich.

There is even a new Pizza Box vendor, offering healthier oven baked pizza in under 10 minutes. Yet this also ranges to the more traditionally fast food options for the starving but busy student; the Bratwurst van next to Teviot offers a good old hotdog with all the trimmings for a mere £3. Compared to soggy leftovers in your Tupperware at the bottom of your bag, it is difficult to resist.

Nor is this interest in fast food purely based on the desire to titillate the taste buds. Students who are involved in multiple societies or sports clubs, on top of their academic studies, often have to dart between various campus buildings in a short amount of time. Frequently, popping by Tesco or going back home at lunchtime to cook up a simple meal simply is not an option. Instead, the pop-up stall vendors have realised that by going out to meet students on campus in their mobile kitchens, they can satisfy demand for an expanding student population, making a business savvy decision and tidy profit in the process.

However, it is arguable how entrenched this lifestyle is amongst students. Peruse a student area between the hours of 12 and 2pm, and you will be amazed at the variety of home-made meals students are eating, even if they are still within the classic Tupperware box. Most recently, I witnessed a student unravel, with love, a home-made meatloaf, complete with side salad, followed by a meringue with fresh raspberries. More noticeable, however, was the social element of lunchtime.

Within the Chrystal MacMillan building, groups of students frequently spend upwards of 45 minutes with friends eating lunch. Evidently, not all students wish to forgo a social lunch hour, despite the availability of quicker on-the-go options and their schedules. Many view lunch hour as a non-negotiable time to re-fuel and have a break.

What are we to make of the increasingly popular pop-up food stalls? Are they taking away the social aspect of lunch hour, increasing expectation to eat a variety of food, or allowing for a decreased necessity to talk with fellow students? Unlikely. Rather, the pop-up food stall is allowing for those with a genuine lack of time to eat something quick and tasty to sustain their energy. The variety of cuisine offers a brief respite for busy students. For those who believe in a sit down lunch, don’t worry:  many students set store by the same.

IMAGE: David Hawgood


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