Tessa Catalano ’26 is an English major with a minor in Art History in the Joint Degree Program. She is also a member of Pi Beta Phi sorority. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
Food: it’s what drives us, brings us together, establishes community, expresses love — and is stored in community kitchens. Its integral role in our lives is the reason that I am choosing to write about the kitchen of all shared living spaces at the College of William and Mary. One might say that our most vulnerable times come in the form of the community bathrooms, but its food that holds all our hearts. Especially in a climate of dining hall food and precious dining dollars, the food we choose to store within reach of others is often our most prized. The pilgrimage to the grocery store is often time-consuming, requires exorbitant amounts of planning and must be executed with precision. All these reasons and more are why the community kitchens house our blood, sweat, tears and pickles.
At least for me, the Trader Joe’s kosher pickles hold a special place in my heart. They found their way to me when a friend selflessly asked if I needed anything while grocery shopping, and I jumped at the coveted opportunity to buy food of my own. Sadly, with naivete of believing in the good of humanity, I placed them carelessly within reach of others in my communal kitchen. Without getting into the gory details, the pickles have been taken.
This is one instance of the hardships of community living spaces, a particularly unique time of life when one shares a kitchen with up to 30 other individuals. My experience with losing my pickles inspired this article for the sake of examining the realities of shared kitchens and possibly rectifying some of the tension.
There is very little authority that reigns over communal living areas. Some might say the Resident Advisors hold the power, both to uphold the rules and punish accordingly, but participation in resident meetings and GroupMes is unsurprisingly low. If laws aren’t given authority by the people they are enacted by, then how can they be enforced? With little to no supervision or enforcement of the law in community kitchens, residents are left to abide by their own rules based on assumed moral responsibility. What we are left with is an ungoverned shared space, leading to only one thing: the tragedy of the commons, an economic theory that ungoverned public resources are depleted because everyone acts in their own short-term self-interest. Manifesting in overflowing trash bags, pots waiting to be cleaned by the invisible hand of the ghost of dirty dishes past and the mysterious disappearance of pickles, among other prized food items, the tragedy of the commons wreaks havoc on the state of our communal kitchens and demands a reactionary moral code to correspond. The goal of this article is to clarify what moral responsibility means within the microcosm of the shared kitchen.
The length with which one trash bag can be used is highly contestable, and the mountain that looms precariously above the bin itself is a revolutionary feat of physics only rivaled by the feat required in disposing of it. The pile that could qualify as modern art with its impossible angles and balancing acts becomes a source of not just pungent odor but rising tension within the kitchen. In dorms, the janitors are left with the mess to clean, leaving residents with deniability and no consequences. I propose a Doctrine of Janitor Justice, one that lets janitors set standards for what they expect from students and allows students to acknowledge the person most affected by the effects of their uncleanliness. These balancing acts are not completed by a mysterious acrobat but the janitors responsible for keeping our kitchens from complete disarray.
Not only are trash bags a site of tension, but dirty dishes are just as much of a battle that takes no prisoners. Littering sinks and stove tops with corpses of past mac and cheese and burnt mystery meals ultimately creates an inhospitable climate for future meals that is conducive to bacterial overgrowth. The mysterious invisible hands responsible for cleaning dirty dishes at home suddenly become culpably absent from our lives and kitchens. The result? Yet another battle of the wills as residents wait for others to muster up the courage and clean up their crimes. The Dirty Dish Declaration would solve this injustice by setting forth a limit on the amount of dishes allowed in the sink at once, meaning that those looking to use pots and pans are forced to clean up immediately after themselves if the sink is full. This declaration would result in warranted growing resentment towards the repeat offenders of the dirty dishes and a general containment of the issue.
And then there’s the fridge, a bounty often ransacked by anonymous criminal hands lying in wait to find optimal products for consumption. The first solution should be a Fridge Federation, establishing a union under the domain of that flickering refrigerator light that rests on a treaty agreed upon by all. Under this federation, one would enter into an agreement to label all food items with sticky notes that have their names written on them. Furthermore, any food item that has been expired for over two weeks would be fair game to throw out, and residents must generally approach the hallowed refrigerator with courtesy. This agreement would constitute the safety of one’s purchases ensured by the contractual obligation to respect people’s desires to not have their food eaten.
The kitchen, a holy ground of communion, should be treated as such and guided by a moral code demanding responsibility for the well being of other people’s food and kitchen supplies. We should always consider the needs of others and be courteous in public spaces, specifically when acknowledging the people who clean up after us, a lesson learned the hard way through the trials and tribulations of communal kitchens. So next time you see a particularly enticing food item that isn’t yours innocently tempting you to steal it, I hope you remember this article and the plight of the pickles.