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During normal semesters at Harvard, the dining hall serves as a beacon of on-campus life, with students enjoying it as an almost completely standardized and communal eating experience. With few exceptions, we all have an unlimited meal plan, we can access the same food, and — aside from the limited number of students with access to public or in-suite kitchens — we can all go the entire semester without washing a single dish.
But this year has seen a complete upheaval of the typical Harvard College dining experience: Some of us have been cooking for ourselves off campus, learning to buy groceries, experiment with stovetops, and wash dishes like real adults. Others have been eating at home with our families each night. Meanwhile, those of us on campus are still enjoying Harvard University Dining Service meals, but sans the social aspect of gathering in the dining halls.
Inevitably, HUDS looks far different during these pandemic-era semesters. The typical vibrancy of mealtime bonding, chatter, and respite (many of us eat at our desks) has been lost. And yet, amidst uncertain times, one thing has remained constant: the time-tested presence of HUDS workers, who have continued to gift students all their warmth and energy. Indeed, for many of us on campus, HUDS workers have been the only adults regularly present in our lives. And on some days — in light of colder weather and virus restrictions — they are the only people we interact with at all.
The importance of such constancy cannot be overstated, and we want to sincerely thank the incredible team at HUDS for reliably infusing our lives with love and care during tumultuous, lonely times — especially as they have personally risked and endured so much throughout the pandemic.
During ordinary semesters, HUDS frees us from the extra thought and worry that comes with constantly strategizing and preparing food. To that end, during the pandemic — as we’ve instead worked to prepare meals for ourselves amidst the rancor of classes and young adulthood — we have become ever more aware of the immense privilege it is to have access to such wonderful and reliable dining services on campus. But beyond that, having a dependable HUDS meal plan also diminished the pressure of budgeting and paying for take-out. It’s a powerful equalizer. Students that are heirs to fortunes (there are some in here!) and those that come to Harvard homeless all share the same meal plan. Sure, students venture outside of it and might elect to grab food in the Square. Still, this powerful baseline means everyone has a seat at the de facto table, while offering a particularly powerful hand to those of us on financial aid.
During the pandemic, we’ve missed HUDS’s signature blend of convenience, comfort, and care. Even more so, we all miss the splendid energy that has always managed to pervade the dining halls themselves — from the warmth of the dining staff who made each big hall feel like home, to the familiarity of the tables where we made our closest friends. It’s too easy to take such small things for granted amidst the hustle and bustle of campus life. But when we all return to campus, we can’t forget how much we’ve missed these sacred spaces, made complete by the community of students and staff who connect in them.
On many levels, life on campus during Covid-19 has made concrete an understanding of what has been lost. It’s hard to walk the halls and not see before and after. On the other hand, it has magnified and grounded our appreciation of the small things that remain. The smile and brief, warm check-in you get from HUDS workers as you pick up your bagged lunch. The physical spaces holding the fort down until we all return.
We can’t wait for the day when our dining halls are filled with laughter and life once again — when we recoup what has been lost and reactivate all we now know to miss. Upon our return, let’s have endlessly long conversations — ones that are way longer than what we think we have time for — in our cozy dining halls. Let’s savor every bite of our HUDS meals (maybe even try seasoning them yourself!) and relish the wondrous constancy embedded within each of them. And, for once, let’s (actually) grab a meal sometime.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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