Lobster Night

A costly excess or a scrumptious tradition worth fighting for?

Upon arriving at Harvard, first-years find their introductory semester to be replete with ridiculous, if entertaining, traditions. These time-honored pastimes range in absurdity, from the rather benign obsession with John Harvard’s toe to the more risqué disrobement of Primal Scream. We like to think these quirks add to a sense of camaraderie and community—essential to the experience of every college student. And there was a time when every Harvard student had the opportunity to annually don a bib, clutch a fork and impale his or her very own large, red crustacean. It was known as the Harvard Clambake or, more informally, as Lobster Night. But that time is gone.

It recently came to the attention of some zealous Harvard students that Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) abolished the traditional September clambake. Under the title of “Harvard Coalition for the Return of Lobster Night,” these students have organized a group on thefacebook.com—which currently boasts more than 175 members—to raise awareness of the fact that Harvard students will forevermore be deprived of their right to share in this long-established tradition. Student outcry over this outrage was even acknowledged by each of the Undergraduate Council presidential nominees leading up to last week’s election, with president-elect Matthew J. Glazer ’06 lamenting in an e-mail posted on several House lists, “Lobster Night is an institution. Without it, are we really at Harvard?” A valid question, indeed.

But while it’s encouraging that the future council president has taken notice of this grassroots movement, HUDS had legitimate reasons to remove the exorbitant feast from its calendar. Costing the University roughly $30,000 to orchestrate the event, HUDS argues that the trade-off in terms of daily services and provisions isn’t worth the price of a night of extravagant lobster indulgence. Assistant Director of Marketing Crista Martin noted, “Do lobsters one day translate to grilled chicken on a daily basis? Yes.” We see HUDS’ point. Yet there may be other ways to satiate student appetite for the College’s yearly lobster fix.

We propose that lobster advocates look into securing funds from outside sources to sponsor their lobster bash. Harvard has droves of rich alumni looking for creative ways to give back to their alma mater. Perhaps we can capitalize on their penchant for philanthropy. And if the allure of a Lobster Trust doesn’t ultimately prove fruitful, perhaps some business savvy student might secure funds from an ambitious financial institution. Who knows? Next year students at the College might sit down to a delicious clambake dinner at the official Mercer Lobster Night.

Of course, there was also the suggestion by Kevin K. Chan ’07, one of the founders of thefacebook.com’s lobster advocacy group, of a $10 opt-out fee for students to fund the feast, which he calls a “monumental college experience.” But, unlike the recently passed wind energy initiative, we don’t condone the use of opt-out fee referenda—however effective—ad nauseam. If either a Lobster Fund or Mercer doesn’t come through, we would rather trust HUDS’ judgment and keep our grilled chicken.