No such thing as a free lunch

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March 27, 2007

2:01 PM

We’ve all thrown away unfinished food and “borrowed” utensils. We know students who hoard whole loaves of bread in their backpacks. Your kitchen sink brims with the translucent cups of the University Center; at the Daily Grind, you notice that their orange and green plates resemble those of the Caf. Across campus we see it: abandoned containers of pizza, wasted milk gone sour, forks, cups, trays and cheese — it’s been said that an entire wheel of Baby Swiss was once stolen from the Caf.

p. So who’s paying for the stolen silverware and wasted food? Apparently, we are.

p. At the Caf I met up with Dining Services District Manager Phil DiBenedetto. He is a ball of contagious energy, the type of personality that makes everyone in the room light up. He is talkative, lighthearted and easy going. He doesn’t consider the theft situation an “epidemic.”

p. According to DiBenedetto, the budget for plates and utensils has grown. “We spent about $16,123 a year at the University Center and a little less at the Commons — about $15,328 for a total of over $31,451 a year to replace plates, bowls, glasses, forks, knives and spoons,” DiBenedetto said. This wasn’t entirely a product of theft, as many of the kitchen supplies simply break or are accidentally thrown away.

p. DiBenedetto doesn’t believe in strict enforcement. “I’d hope I wouldn’t have to baby sit,” he said. He explained his philosophy to me. “The honor code doesn’t just apply to academics … it applies to every aspect of your life. This is a finite College, where everyone knows everyone. When you steal from the Caf or sneak into the UC, everyone pays.” It’s not just about the money; it’s a matter of human decency. “If you’re in a tight spot and need food, they’ll let you in — you don’t have to sneak in the back or steal. Just ask.”

p. The increase in meal prices has less to do with stolen items or wasted food and more to do with economics. Because of inflation, the price of food has gone up. According to the Consumer Price Index, the cost of food has increased between 4 and 5 percent from last year. While Dining Services hasn’t jumped on the “organic foods” wagon (which would put meal prices through the roof), they have implemented healthy option choices, which yields a slight increase in preparation time as well as food costs.

p. “I think students come in and see that the food here is unlimited.” DiBenedetto smiled. “It is, but it isn’t.” He put it this way: if you were at home, you wouldn’t be wasting all that food because you’d be paying for it. What students don’t realize is that we’re paying for it here, and that we’re only hurting ourselves.
The Board of Dining Services doesn’t see a need for enforcement or regulation.

p. In my opinion, with regard to food, it’s okay to fill your plate, so long as you clear it. As for the kitchenware situation, prison rules should be applied. To each his own bowl and spoon. Food left behind or taken home should be tracked down the culprit fined heavily: you can charge Steve for helping himself to that rather generous second serving of mashed potatoes, or Stephanie for leaving behind that pizza crust.

p. The Honor Council should have a hand in the operation, cracking down on food hoarders. Prosecution should be lethal and circumspect. Stolen silverware should win you a charge of larceny. Thefts greater than $25 should pronounce you an instant felon.

p. Another idea would be to serve the students with the rarest, most ornate silverware you can find: bedecked 17th-century French flatware, or the immaculate porcelain plates used at Yalta. This way, students will be extra cautious in losing or damaging items and encouraged to saran wrap their plates so as to leave these antiques spotless.

p. And if they do have the balls to lift a spoon of Louis XIV, they’ll be in a ring of shit, responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost goods.

p. __Sherif Abdelkarim, a sophomore at the College, is a Staff Columnist. His columns appear every Tuesday.__

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