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Stopping and Shopping in Annenberg

By Sara J. Culver

An unusual paragraph has been circulating through students’ e-mail boxes for the past week, firmly declaring that “Annenberg is not Stop and Shop.” Reading through the detailed arguments of the Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS), I was prompted to consider what else the first-year dining hall is not. Aside from not being a large grocery, it’s certainly not one of Yale’s dining halls—which offer five different meal plans, each with the option of using included “Eli Bucks” at their campus convenience store. HUDS’s BoardPlus is a poor substitute, failing to pay for purchases on a late-night CVS run. A little more digging reveals that Annenberg (and HUDS) don’t stack up to any of the other Ivies’ dining services. To put it briefly, each of our peer institutions offer multiple meal plans, all of which carry lower price tags than Harvard’s ambiguous $4,162 yearly board charge.

Not only do these plans offer more options, they make a specific effort to cater to students’ notoriously hectic schedules. Unlike Annenberg, which has a rigid schedule that causes first-years to adopt geriatric eating habits and dine at 5 p.m., institutions such as Princeton serve dinner until 10 p.m. (though limited after 9 p.m.)—every college student’s dream. And in that awkward afternoon window where you’re always wishing you could grab a snack? You should be wishing you were at Yale, where some dining halls stay open continuously from 7:45 a.m. to 9 p.m.

It’s time that HUDS made some serious changes to accommodate students. Eating an afternoon dinner only prompts late-night hunger, unsatisfied by the stale bagels and donuts offered at Brain Break. Unlike what HUDS promises, I have personally never seen Brain Break feature Eggo waffles or cereal, two frequently hyped items on the menu. So how do first-year students try to stave off those midnight hunger pangs? More often than not, they resort to smuggling food from Annenberg during the too-early dinner hours. Clearly, this is not the solution HUDS is looking for, but it’s one that students are forced to adopt by the schedule imposed on them.

Here’s where the glaring flaw in the system seems to appear. We pay for unlimited meals, and yet they’re seemingly limited—both by the dining halls’ hours and strict rules regarding which food we’ve technically paid for. Would it seem more legal to HUDS if I left Annenberg after a meal, came back and swiped again and then carried out my paltry orange or paper cup of cereal? Then, at least, I would be going through the motions of signing out the food that I’d already paid for on the meal plan. It seems the only thing that would make this unacceptable is that I would not be eating the food in the physical structure of Memorial Hall. And to put the situation into perspective, it’s not as if students are making off with sides of ham or loaves of bread now. Not only is it food we have paid for, it’s not much of it at that.

Harvard’s system of self-help contribution is a great thing. It helps me get out of bed in the morning and go to classes I help pay for, study books I bought and eat meals my own money goes toward. But like many of my fellow classmates, it’s a rare semester when I don’t sleep through a class or two or skip a few meals in Annenberg. I think I can count the amount of times I’ve eaten breakfast in the dining hall on one hand. Roughly speaking, that’s about 100 breakfasts I’ve paid for and not eaten each semester. Not only do I feel that this justifies my minor cereal thefts from Annenberg from time to time, I feel that it’s cause for a serious glance into the meal plan in general. Is it really fair that we are given no choice but to pay for this so called “unlimited” meal plan, but are in actuality not permitted access to unlimited food?

At a large grocery, people are able to get as much food as they want, based on the amount of money they’re willing to spend. The author of the recently-circulated statement is right: Annenberg is not Stop and Shop. But perhaps a serious effort should be made to make the two a little more alike.

Sara J. Culver ’07 lives in Straus Hall.

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