Dining Hall Reflections

Ceara Danaher

For the educated elite, we’re a pretty classless bunch.

We live comfortably here, surrounded by the implements for success and the individuals paid to guide us there. And we do achieve, again and again. The great irony is that in our climb towards the upper echelons of society, we leave decency behind. Plainly, we’ve become rude.

I don’t doubt the ability of a Midd Kid to schmooze and mingle the night away if need be. The Middlebury administration has even incorporated these skills into our education by offering numerous “networking” workshops. But somewhere along the way, perhaps as we practiced forcing chuckles over cocktails, we left something behind.

There is a lack of respect and common courtesy at Middlebury.

For the past two years, I have worked mornings at Ross dining hall alongside the full-time employees. These are individuals who devote the majority of their waking hours to satisfying your hunger. It is important to note that their waking hours are, in fact, on a drastically different schedule than your own.

The majority of morning dining hall employees wake up before the sun rises— around 4 a.m. Some drive nearly an hour to work. Many wake up earlier, in order to prepare lunches for their children, or even an entire dinner, before heading to work. The implications of such an early wake up time are that these people crawl into bed no later than 9 p.m. Imagine attempting to raise children on that schedule— or trying to maintain a marriage when one’s spouse works a typical 9 to 5 shift. Yet, such a schedule is a necessity; our needs must be met.

The difficulties in food preparation are equally monumental. Attempting to prepare dishes in quantities nearing one thousand is a huge undertaking. Complications such as allergies, religious and moral concerns, and nutritious value, are endless. Clean-up is just as atrocious.

The gratitude for these efforts is minimal.

We gather food carelessly, letting cherry tomatoes roll across the floor, and tossing bagels on the counters to use their empty bags. We shove peanut buttery knives into buckets of jelly, thus contaminating them for our classmates with allergies. People have a tendency to break bite-sized chunks out of muffins while passing by. In most cases these are then disposed of— people don’t tend to find crumbling and contaminated food appetizing. When we finish eating, we feel few qualms about leaving our dirty dishes behind next to our fanned-out newspapers.

If our actions are not offensive enough, we solidify our attitudes through use of comment cards. These cards are fair game for criticism and complements. As it stands, appropriately worded suggestions abound, complements are rare, and there is an abundance of harsh criticism.

Some students seem incapable of making a connection between their crude writings and the individuals reading them. One has to ask, would you ever make such crass comments to someone’s face? After your parents prepare dinner at your home, is it standard that you insult them? I have stood and watched crestfallen expressions on employee’s faces as they read card after card of “the meatballs sucked,” and “Friday’s soup tasted like ass.”

These people give their lives to your pleasure and sustenance. They are dedicated, hard-working, and they are real. They have families and they have concerns. In most cases, they are your elders. And when you move away from your cushy dorm to the next incarnation of your plush lifestyle, they will remain in Middlebury, Vermont. They will inevitably earn less than you, work more difficult hours than you, and be less respected than you. Unfortunately, they will also continue to put up with crap from kids like us.

When I put on my apron and baseball hat for three hours on weekday mornings, I am removed from you. I become analogous to the employees behind the counter. Time and time again, I am treated with contempt that I never experience as a student here.

Discourteousness does not affect every member of the student body— not even most. But there is enough to be disturbing. As we move onwards and upwards on our trajectory of success, we cannot lose the values that we were taught as children at the dinner table. “Best behavior” does not only apply when we are in high profile social situations. It needs to exist on a daily basis, without discrimination. Please, be polite.

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