Behold, Cold Breakfast Stinketh!

The historical lineage of the fight against dining hall despotism

In 1766, before the House system, before “cage-free eggs,” before the very forging of the United States of America, Harvard students rose up to stand against injustice in the dining hall. That year, the dining steward had purchased a full stock of rotten butter and let it further decay before attempting to serve it in the dining commons. In response, a group of students banded together as the “Sons of Harvard,” in the spirit of the recently formed Sons of Liberty, and planned to stand against the administration that had ignored their complaints. Asa Dunbar, later the grandfather of Henry David Thoreau, led the rebellion. On a day when the stench of the butter rose to its peak, he stood in the dining hall and yelled out: “Behold! Our butter stinketh!” Half the college rose with him and, roaring a grand “Huzzah!” of defiance, marched out into the Yard.

It’s time for Harvard students to rise up like our predecessors to protest our modern equivalent—the cuts to hot breakfast. After all, the usurpation of our morning meal has a historical precedent, too. In the late 1970s, the university, facing budget cuts and an oil crisis, stripped students of their dietary rights. But even then, it did so with a few basic provisions to ensur the health, safety, and satisfaction of its students. The administration lowered board costs to reflect the change, and still served hot breakfast during exam period so that students trudging Yardward to take exams under the threat of “incommunicado” imprisonment would at least have warm, wholesome sustenance in their bellies. We remain cold in our early (in fact, 15 minutes earlier than usual) exam period. Despite university claims that cold breakfast would mean lower board costs and better Brain Break, we still peck at our usual bagels while it saves nearly one million dollars. I may study Hist & Lit, but the math just doesn’t work.

Many argue that only a small portion of students even drag themselves from bed, and those who do mostly eat the cold items anyway. However, experts agree that a good breakfast is an extremely important part of a healthful diet, and it should not be the job of the university administration to encourage our bad habits. Nor should we fault the HUDS staff. According to sources within Dining Services, many of the food experts who bring us our daily sustenance hate the halfway breakfast they’re forced to provide.

Maybe Harvard students today have too much else to do or too much to lose. Maybe we just have a stronger stomach for tyranny than our Revolutionary forefathers. The lack of hot breakfast glares as a public symbol that our administration is too careless and too calloused to even keep us fed, that they have hardly progressed since the 1700s. The UC has done nothing, between incendiary e-mails and media stunts for relevance, but found an “Idea Bank” as an “outlet” to silence our concerns. Most of us will just put our heads down and trudge through the cold with them. But if we do, we forsake the memory of the long line of Daughters and Sons of Harvard who have risen to shout against unpalatable oppression.

Jeffrey J. Phaneuf ’10, a Crimson editorial writer, is a history and literature concentrator in Dunster House.

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