Cambridge gave me a strange relationship with food

If obsessiveness had a smell, you’d get whiff of this city from Leeds. No one would make it to Cambridge if they didn’t have a natural tendency to fixate on things.

Cambridge food Obsession peas stress

Shockingly, if you put a few thousand obsessives together in some nice buildings, they draw this quality out of each other.

At least forty per cent of the time, the obsessive energy at this university vibrates to a useful tune – theatre, academia, political activism, craft circles. However, the remaining sixty per cent of the time it’s just floating around waiting to be spent, making us all go a bit peculiar.

Some kick out this energy on political facebook arguments or binge drinking, but for the unopinionated and hungry, the fruit of this evil is often a weird food obsession. Here are a few of the weirdest.


In my head, Michelmas 2014 is the texture of smash. Lovely, lazy smash: a hot meal (kind of) without even having to leave the books and go to the gyp room. For the uninitiated, there are four delicious (?) varieties of instamash available at Asda, each with the exact same smell and suspicious flakes of unidentified vegetable. My favourite was cheese and onion.

I came to know exact quantities of milk and water to add to my powdered potato for optimum temperature and consistency. On adventurous days, a spoonful of marmite might go into the slop too.

That term, I learnt that man cannot live by instant mash alone

There was a bleak point around week four when I was on a packet a day. I got my parents to send over a shoebox full of sachets from home, since this town is woefully without supermarkets who sell flavoured instamash.

Unlike our beloved Sainsbury’s, Asda has noticed the gap in the market for flavoured potato products

I have a few grim memories of eating it from a mug at three am after coming home from a night out, drunk and sad. When I woke up one morning and there was dry instamash all over the carpet, I knew I should probably re-evaluate my relationship with food.


This seems a lot stranger on reflection than it did at the time, but last exam termthere were a few weeks were my primary nutrient source was tinned mushy peas. I had a red microwavable camping bowl, into which I would slosh an entire can. On the bleakest days, I didn’t even bother to heat them up.

delicious, nutritious peas

In retrospect it seems like a poor choice for a food obsession – after all, the ones from Aldi contain a disturbingly small percentage of pea – but it seemed entirely logical at the time. I reasoned – they fill you up, they take no valuable time to prepare and they count as one of your five-a-day.

Honestly, with some pepper on, they were not that bad. I liked the security – the blandness was comforting – and I was saving a lot of money. My whole diet was streamlined, managed for maximum efficiency and minimum fun. I would preach these benefits to anyone who would listen, positively convinced I had found the secret to dining in Cambridge.

My friends now refuse to let me buy anything tinned in case I do it again.


My obsession was as expensive as it was tragic.

For a couple of months last year I developed an infatuation for packets of giant Cadbury’s chocolate buttons. From a young age I’ve always had a thing for chocolate. It started with Freddos back in the days before the little froggy bastard started taking liberties and charged just 10p for his services, and then I moved on to bars of dairy milk.

But Cambridge broke me and what had previously been an intense, but largely healthy, relationship turned into a full-blown obsession. When dairy milk bars weren’t enough I turned to the £1 bags of giant buttons and was going through at least one bag a day.

Nothing cures sadness better than a sugar rush

The great things about buttons is they’re not that big, and they’re quite fun. It cheered me up to pop them into my mouth, throw them into my mouth and to stack them up before cramming them into my cake-hole.

I realised that I had a problem when I started timing my button snaffling to when I was alone. I developed a Smaug like possessiveness over buttons and it was damaging my relationships with those around me. For that reason, and possibly the fact a friend told me I was starting to resemble a pork-pie, I stopped.

Now I avoid chocolate and, when I get cravings, snack on raw carrots. Not as fun, or as tasty but I am £365 a year richer and considerably lighter for it.

So yes. Thanks Cambridge.