Taking food from Annenberg is a daring endeavor. On one hand, the ready-to-go, cooked food is an inviting target for swiping and eating later. On the other hand, Harvard University Dining Services forbids students from taking food outside of the dining hall. As the students and HUDS clash, awkwardness, confusion, and hungry stomachs prevail. It seems clear that HUDS must get a better handle on dining hall food theft and regulate the current black market of hot meal smuggling. Although bagged meals are provided, Annenberg has no substitute for missing a hot meal. Allowing students to take a regulated amount of food out of their dining hall will remedy this problem and eliminate the awkwardness and ambiguity.
The reason people take food is that it is cooked, unlike pre-ordered HUDS meals, and easy to steal. My HUDS, a service that allows students to order bag meals that they can quickly pick up, is a helpful option; however, eating a cold ham and lettuce sandwich is a much different experience than eating a steaming hot eggplant parmesan sandwich. We are paying a hefty fee for our meal plan, with an individual dinner for a guest costing fifteen dollars without tax. We should be able to get the most out of this price. It makes little sense to drain our limited BoardPlus, or spend actual cash, on cooked food when there is a good, “free” alternative. (Thus, stealing is in some ways a compliment to the taste quality of HUDS cooking.) Additionally, the food presented in a buffet style seems to be begging to be taken out in as many Ziplocs and Tupperware containers as possible. The ease makes students often feel it is their right to take food out of the dining hall.
In fact, the stockpiling of edibles that frequently occurs in response to this situation is regrettable. HUDS purchases food to accommodate the size of the freshman class, while possibly assuming that some might be taking a little bit of food out of the dining hall. However, those students who hoard enormous quantities of food into their bags are putting a strain on the dining hall and costing the university. It should not be overlooked that HUDS does a great job of keeping costs down as the percent change in board costs has been lower than peer institutions like Yale and Stanford over the last few years, but the increased food consumption should not dramatically affect costs. Most Annen-burglars are not hoarders: They just want to take the occasional item because they know they will be hungry later and do not want to spend extra money buying food outside the dining hall. Annenberg’s prohibition of this kind of “stealing” is unfair.
A compromise between Annen-burglars and HUDS regarding food removal could be reached if the university gave every student a medium, reusable plastic container with the approximate food capacity of a single plate at the beginning of the year. The container could be called EAT, Exiting Annenberg Tupperware, and every freshman would be encouraged to only take food out of Annenberg in an EAT.
Ideally, an EAT box would be about the size of half a bread loaf and would only hold about a standard plate’s worth. This would allow students to possibly take a burger, some pasta, or a few brownies but nothing that would truly strain the cafeteria. Thus, the net effect could be that less food gets taken out than that which is removed under the current system. Former thieves can leave their criminal pasts behind and find redemption in the new system of taking food. And as the commonplace act of taking food out of the dining hall becomes regulated, actually invidious food stealing could be punished deservedly.
Granting official recognition to Annen-burglary will also help Annenberg keep sanitary conditions up, given that a chief concern of HUDS is that food taken back to the room will go bad. To address this problem, Annenberg should support the EAT program by offering to wash and clean the containers.
Would there still be people trying to cheat the system? Of course. But these burglars should face tougher penalties as a result. With this clear distinction, the now ambiguous and unfair system of taking food out of our dining hall will disappear. A compromise between now-hungry criminals and concerned HUDS enforcers can make the overall dining experience a more positive one.
Matthew S. Chuchul ’13, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Thayer Hall.