During my son’s freshman year at Colorado State University, I had several occasions to visit him and eat in the dorm cafeteria. Among the various foodie temptations were a carvery, a pizza counter, a burger grill and both sushi and salad bars. As for desserts… don’t get me started. Things have changed since my first year of college.
None of the highlights of living away from my parents for the first time had anything to do with food. The food service at my chosen institute of higher learning was as good as any of its time, which isn’t saying much. In an alcove at one side of the dining room there was a line of steam tables with any array of mostly recognizable items. There were specials for each night of the week; the only memorable one was fondly known as “mystery meat.”
According to tribal knowledge, this odd meat-like substance was last week’s leftovers, ground up and pressed together into serving-size patties. There was a fringe element that was convinced this was the final resting place of cadavers from the bio lab, but those people weren’t welcome at my table. Naïve freshman that we were, we trusted our health and nutritional welfare to the cafeteria gods.
Thanks to Prof. David Mendlovic and hyperspectral imaging, mystery meat may soon cease to be a mystery. The use of light spectra to identify the unique fingerprints of various substances is not new, but Dr. Dave and his team have succeeded in creating a MEMS version that could be integrated into a smartphone.
No more hiring a bodyguard to watch over your drink at a dance club, no more wondering what’s in those casseroles your Aunt Maude dishes out, and – somewhat sadly – no more mystery meat. Higher Education will never be the same.