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Lines Sabotage the Union

The Food Isn't the Biggest Problem for Hungry First-Years

By Xiaomeng Tong

When Gilbert Tang '98 had his first meal at the Freshman Union, he dropped his knife and fork and cried out in excitement, "Oh, my God, this food is absolutely great. Even better than my mom's cooking!"

Unfortunately, he might be the only one out of the entire first-year class of 1,600 to have ever thought this way. And such an epiphany happened only once for Tang. He himself soon rescinded his hasty comment a few meals later. Now whenever he refers to something nasty or bad in general, he shouts out, "Oh, my God, it's like the Union food!"

That's right. Nobody likes the Union. A random upper-class student will whole-heartedly offer one piece of advice to first-years: Don't eat at the Union. Apparently, a lot of people have listened. Check out how many fresh faces show up at dinner tables in Adams or Quincy every day. It's no surprise that these nearby houses have to put up "no interhouse" sings to protect their own residents, hence forcing the large flow of immigrants back to the place where they sadly belong. Still, a few determined eaters would rather walk to houses far, far away.

All this naturally gives rise to my humble question: Why, Why, Why does our Union, as they put it, "suck"?

"The last time I had dinner at the Union?" Ivan Ho '98 doesn't seem to remember clearly, despite the fact that the dining hall is just a few steps away from his dorm, Greenough. "Anyway I almost never go there in the evenings. Don't you know it is terrible, man?" Ho shrugs.

But, man, how terrible? ho is obviously confused when asked this stupid question whose answer he has already taken for granted. "Hey, it's just terrible." Let me tell you: all the food, whether in the Union or in the Houses, is prepared through exactly the same procedures--following exactly the same recipes, and containing exactly the same ingredients. If Adam's porkchops are good, so are those in the Union--how good do you expect the meat of filthy animals to be? If the Union's pizza is bad, it's no good in Quincy either, because Harvard's pizza is simply not pizza. There is nothing on which the Houses hold a monopoly. Believe it or not, The Union has everything that you have received with gratitude in the Houses.

Here I've overlooked the problem of whether specific cooks make a difference. But allow me to draw a reasonable assumption: If the Houses secretly sent their best cooks to the Union, the Union-haters would continue to fire their condemnation from the House dining halls. The key obviously doesn't lie in the cooks, who--and I believe Tang is right--should be better than a lot of mothers out there.

Something mysterious must make the Union food appear so terrible and give the whole place a bad name--the lines. Nothing could be worse than the lines. If any first-years ever got surprised at the sight of an incredibly long line outside Sever on the day of registration, they soon accustomed themselves to this normal phenomenon outside the Union. The right time to pick to have a taste is one o'clock on Monday, Wednesday or Friday, when Ec 10 lecture is just over. Imagine standing out there in the cold, in the rain, in the snow for 30 minutes, only to get in and be told to "come again for a second plate."

Oh, yes, this another terrible thing--you have to come to the line again for more food. Still worse, they never give you enough the first time. Occasionally you can get lucky and have two chickwiches, but it is their basic policy to provide the amount of just one tray of food. Such rationing harks back to the stigma of a British boarding school.

So here is the essence of the embarrassing Union Paradox: Who would love a meal, no matter how wonderful it actually is, for which you've waited so long that you can eat like a horse but finally end up taking enough for a bird?

But who is to blame? Ourselves! There are just too many of us! None of us went to New Haven, and this is the price to pay. The Union is innocent--if only it could increase the speed of card-swiping and food-serving.

However, being innocent doesn't necessarily mean being perfect. There are certainly some other things the Union can easily accomplish to benefit and please all. Meal times are too short--take a hypothetical student's example: On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the student has a class at 9 a.m., and can hardly get out of bed before 8:50, let alone catch the Union's break fast. The student is free from 10 to 11, but the Union is closed by then. Classes resume at 11 and continue all the way to 2, leaving only 15 minutes take to his heels and grab some grub.

Apart from the extension of meal times, if the Union officials could be still nicer and ever thought of beating all the Houses, they should provide good late night snacks during the reading and exam periods, just like the Houses, or should even re-open at night. They may argue they are already doing this, but as a Canaday Hall resident, I swear that I didn't see anything coming to our Common Room as they promised last semester. If they ever did, it is only the old problem: they hadn't provided enough. Yeah, "enough"--that is not an unfamiliar word to describe people's hope for the Union's food.

Of course, the dining hall for the next class will be in Memorial Hall. That fact relentlessly reduces the value of this whole piece (about the Union) down to almost zero. Anyway, I still hope this piece is not treated like the Union's food and will ring an alarming bell for the planners of the future dining hall. Somehow, I feel that the class of '99 will hate the new building just as we don the Union. The universal truth predicts that students will never be satisfied with their dining hall. But helping to change it is always better than avoiding it.

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