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The Simple Moments

I rarely complain about HUDS. In fact, I believe that there are a great many things that the dining halls here do well: the dining staff is friendly, and the food is flavorful. But lately, I’ve been troubled by a matter of paramount importance: milk.

The three main options for milk in the Harvard dining halls are chocolate, skim, and one percent. The d-hall dispensers offer no choice of whole milk, or even the closest alternative, two percent.

I thought at length about writing an opinion editorial on the lack of whole milk in our dining halls. I researched the health issues surrounding fat content in milk. Despite the long-held assumption that low-fat milk is healthier than the other options, recent (correlation-based) research has suggested that the opposite: A 2013 study carried out at the University of Virginia School of Medicine found that children who drank low-fat milk were heavier. I talked to friends about their milk preferences, leading to vigorous debates about the relative merits of each type of milk. These disagreements centered on the qualitative, not quantitative, distinctions, pitting the more flavorful and rich taste of whole milk against the higher utility of skim milk for breakfast cereal.

But I soon realized that I had spent too much time focused on a remarkably trivial issue (though some may disagree). I had pestered friends; I had read scientific papers; I had agonized over word choice and sentence structure—all for the sake of a beverage. Right now, the world is struggling with containing Ebola and countering ISIS. Harvard confronts shuttered health services and breaches of privacy. But me? I was focused on whole milk. It all seemed so pointless.

And in many ways, it was. My friends and I spent hours talking and complaining about the milk options in our dining and considered asking HUDS to change their ways, or starting a petition to gather signatures. But in the end, we did nothing. We backed up our bravado with a complete lack of action, even though we talked about whole milk with such vigor and defended and championed its merits so fiercely. And to top it all off, there is, in fact, whole milk in Harvard’s dining halls—just check the fridges.

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But our debates about whole milk did matter, at least to us, at least for a time. In truth, we never really expected to take action—more than anything else, the discussion represented an escape. It was a way to concentrate our passions and energies on a topic outside our mundane daily routines of classes, clubs, sports, and work. Every day, we follow the same old patterns, treading the same paths from our houses to our classrooms to our dining halls to our gyms and back to our houses; every day, we talk about the same old topics, cycling through the same old greetings and discussions of classes and sports and politics and life.

But never before had we talked about milk.

And we probably will never talk about it again. We’ll remember that one time, though—that one intense debate about the taste and texture of a quotidian beverage. It was an experience far removed from our normal conversations, a breath of fresh air, an injection of much-needed silliness and frivolity, a welcome distraction from a physics problem set that had dragged late into the night.

Distractions are largely unwelcome in our daily lives. We too often load our lives with classes and activities. We aim to fill up every spare hour or minute of our calendars, and in so doing, we render ourselves unappreciative – even afraid – of breaks or downtime or the silly conversations that won’t lead to academic, extracurricular, or professional success.

And yet there is evidence—both scientific and anecdotal—that the best, most creative thinking often occurs in these moments of relaxation, in the shower or on a run or anywhere entirely removed from our normal, focused state of thinking. These moments are also often the most enjoyable, the most fun.

So let’s cherish them, these moments apart from the monotony and the rhythm and the constant drum of life, because they are the most valuable of all. Let’s indulge in silliness and in the people around us. Let’s all stop and drink some milk—and maybe even write an article about it.

Even if we forget fat content, we’ll certainly be healthier in spirit.

Franklin R. Li ’17, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Cabot House.

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