Food For Thought

Increased board rates, like the Yale game, have become a regular part of a year's routine. "Spiraling food costs," say the officials of the Dining Halls, "make another increase necessary this year." And so the routine goes, a hike two years ago, another of perhaps $40 next year. Harvard, with its $590 annual charge for food, has one of the higher--if not the highest--board rates in the entire nation, a doubtful distinction at best.

The Administration's decision to probe the entire question of rising Dining Hall costs has great merit. By holding a semi-open hearing, the Deans opened the problem for public discussion--but they still held that "some rise in the Board rate seems inevitable, and soon, in any case." Although they held that "some sort of economies" could be effected, they failed to hold out any hope of avoiding yet another hike.

There need not be, however, any increase whatsoever if the Dining Hall authorities summon the courage to take some possibly unpopular moves. The first move, ideally, would entail reduction of the numbers of workers employed in the College dining halls, against the undoubted opposition of the union. In fiscal 1958, the Dining Hall Department spent $3,576,547--of which 44.1 per cent went to purchase of foodstuffs.


It seems foolish to station six or seven people earning $1.30 per hour or more, behind a counter to dish out food when three could do an adequate job. An automatic milk dispenser would serve as well as a part-time employee--and is there a real need to station a person behind the coffee urn at luncheon when one-fifth or less of the students may want a hot drink? Since labor does make up such a large part of the board rate, primary economies should be made in this direction.

The Administration suggested two plans which would involve slight reduction of labor. First, they proposed the "pre-filled tray." Each student would receive a circular platter already loaded with food. There would be no need for a serving line--and thus the number of servers could go down. The second idea involved buffet-style dining. Servers would dole out meat, soup, and possibly dessert to people in the line; for all other items on the menu-each person could serve his own portion.


From the point of cutting food costs at the same time, the buffet plan has a distinct advantage. If a person, say, did not appreciate creamed cauliflower, he would not be forced to take some as would happen with the pre-filled tray. The amount of food prepared might be reduced, and almost certainly the amount thrown away would be minimized. Result: less expenditure for labor, and possibly less for food, with the added advantage of individually-determined servings.

The Dining Hall Department should take a serious look at its policy of unlimited seconds. Among the major colleges of the country, Harvard stands in splendid isolation as the only one which hands out food almost indefinitely to a student. The Central Kitchen, to serve 2,200 dinners, will purchase 2,000 pounds of relatively expensive meat. But by eliminating the additional handouts, the amount ordered might be cut 10 to 15 per cent.

But if the Department wishes to continue in its lonely course, it could consider charging extra for additional servings. Thus, the famished student who must devour three servings of beef and potatoes could be required to pay a nominal sum for the extra helpings. Why should moderately-eating people subsidize those who load their trays wtih two or three layers of delicacies? The rule limiting each undergraduate to two glasses of milk can be profitably enforced; after all, each glassful costs six cents.

As a final method of saving funds, House dining halls could be closed on Sunday mornings. The suggestion, however, that they be shut during an entire weekend penalizes the majority of students who remain in the Houses or bring dates for an inexpensive meal. The dining hall, in the last analysis, serves as the center of a House weekend, as the locations for dances and for dining for two.

All the talk about rising costs lacks a certain validity, however. The officials of the Dining Halls have thus far failed in their effort to state why board rates might reach $630. At the meeting of the Administration with undergraduates on Monday, the director of the Dining Halls refused to divulge the average wage of workers. It is, though, the highest in the Ivy League--this has not yet been mentioned.

Responsible members of the Administration must disclose some hard facts about the necessity for yet another board rate increase, before anyone should consider paying the new rate. The Dining Hall Department has a moral obligation to seek out and publish the facts behind its recent request, an obligation in which it has failed miserably thus far.