Posts Tagged 'Dining'

Dining Hall Etiquette 101

Tristan Axelrod

Considering that roughly 2000 people live and eat together here at Middlebury, I would say that the dining halls are run remarkably well. Especially compared to other schools, which for the most part employ companies such as Marriot and Halliburton to cater food on a daily basis, Middlebury provides very high quality meals that accommodate everybody, including vegetarians, athletes, those of us with dietary restrictions, and even the many picky eaters. Although budget cuts have led to an indisputable decrease in quality over the past few years, one has a hard time making the case that Middlebury students are ill-treated. It would behoove us to appreciate our fortune with grace and consideration for each other and those employed to serve us. Here a few problematic issues on which we might improve.

1) Whining. While Middlebury is certainly expensive, our flat rate tuition guarantees more food than almost any other institution in the country. There is a process for registering complaints—the forms at every dining hall entrance—and the dining hall staff are extremely thoughtful and thorough with their responses to all inquiries, complaints, and compliments. Let’s not contribute to the general inanity of student publications by expounding about the lack of juice at dinner.

2) Stealing dishes. I used to wonder who it was that was stealing all the dishes: I was mystified by all the emails and discussion because I couldn’t understand why people would be so inconsiderate. Then earlier this year, living in Forest, I finally saw it: people carrying their Ross dishes to their room, eating by themselves, and leaving the dishes in the bathroom or, far worse, in the stairwell. Why would you do that? You took it, you bring it back. We’re costing the college tens of thousands of dollars every year because we’re lazy assholes. Seriously?

3) Improper use of serving utensils. Serving spoons, ladles, knives, etc. are for one use: transferring food from a large dish to a small one. There are two common misuses of serving utensils that we see all the time.
• The first is spreading or smoothing with a serving knife, e.g. cream cheese, mashed potatoes, etc. When you spread your cream cheese with the serving knife, you force everyone else to wait for you (especially if you stand in front of the bar so nobody can reach the peanut butter, jam, etc.), and you get crumbs all over the knife and, immediately afterwards, the cream cheese bin. This is unsanitary (not to mention unsightly), so the knife has to be cleaned and replaced. If instead you were to scoop some cream cheese on the side of your plate while you wait for your bagel to toast, you could then spread it at the right time (with your own knife) without inconveniencing anyone.
• The second misuse is picking out just the food you want from a large dish. If you don’t want the cherry tomatoes, pick them out with your fork after serving them. You save everyone in line the infuriation of standing hungrily and watching as you perpetrate your pickiness on them, waiting for their portion of a salad now disproportionately loaded with cherry tomatoes. Or, in the opposite case, you could save us from a bowl of wings minus the drumsticks, stir-fry without the chicken, etc. You also spare the cooking staff the insult of your disgust.

4) Lining up at the beverage trough. There is nothing more aggravating than waiting for water while someone loads three nalgenes with pepsi because they’re too cheap and lazy to pay $1.29 for a 2-liter bottle at Shaw’s. Or waiting five minutes for barbeque wings only to watch the last 24 of them disappear onto the plate of the guy in front of you. It’s inconsiderate, not to mention disgusting and usually unhealthy. If only one dish in the entire dining hall appeals to you, chances are you aren’t the only one for whom this is the case, so save some for everyone else. You could even try a strange new dish, try another dining hall, and/or politely inform the staff of your affinity for the wings (or whatever) and displeasure with other dishes.

5) Inappropriate social behavior. We don’t need yet another ‘dining halls are segregated, we should all smile at each other and sit with random strangers all the time’ article; for the most part those are complete crap and we all know it. However, there’s something to be said for being polite to others: more specifically, being kind and considerate to other students and to staff. In the case of the latter, we need to be aware of the difficulties and complexities of working at a dining hall—serving students with varying needs, financial and cultural backgrounds, odd hours, and let’s not forget the obvious class-cultural issues between staff and students—and respect both the efforts of the staff and their appreciation of feedback. As far as students go, there are a number of simple social rules that require more thought in a dining hall situation: respecting personal space and food preferences (i.e. keeping room in the line and not commenting on food choices) and respecting privacy (i.e. not hitting on others or loudly discussing one’s sexual exploits), for starters.

In general, the dining hall experience could be more positive for everyone at the college if we all just take the time to think about our actions and show more concern for staff and students.

Give Us Our Dining Trays!

Hamza Usmani

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The September 26th issue of The Middlebury Campus ran a story on the decision of Dining Services to remove trays from the dining halls. In that article, they quoted Mathew Biette, the head of dining services, as saying that the decision to take out the trays was made ‘swiftly’ because some students told him that if he put the decision up for discussion, it would never be implemented. Well, that’s obvious.

Dining Services is not exactly a corporation—and hence their primary objective should not be profit maximization. They are service providers, and their main aim should be to provide the best possible service to their patrons.

If we don’t take drastic steps to save the environment, we will regret our inaction in the future. However, environmental action needs to be done intelligently. It is very easy to propose that cars should be banned because they produce pollution, but it takes some creativity and intelligence to figure out a way to save the environment while also not destroying people’s lifestyle by denying them their basic means of transportation. If we make a list of things that produce pollution, we’d never be able to stop. Even the computer that I’m using right now produces pollution. But would I do away with it in order to help the environment? No, because it creates a very insignificant amount of pollution, and removing it would seriously impair my lifestyle.

If the dining service honchos claim that removing trays from dining halls is going to help the environment, they need to prove it. Please don’t tell me that the math they have presented qualifies as proof. In fact, I would think of this as an insult to the Middlebury College students. If they are listing reasons like ‘removing trays would reduce water spillage in the kitchen and less people would fall’ it just means that they themselves are not convinced about the strength of their basic reason to take the trays out. If they are so convinced, they should be willing to answer our questions.

There has been some whispering going on that the real reason to remove trays from the dining halls was to cut costs, and environmental sustainability was used as a cover because we all know it is not “in fashion” to question anything environmental. If this indeed is true, I’d say the Dining Services played their game really poorly. By using environmentalism as a cover-up, they not only put their own credibility at stake but also potentially tarnished the integrity of the environmental cause. If Dining Services were low on budget and they were finding it hard to run the operation with the amount of funding that they had, they should have taken the students into confidence about that. The students, who are interested in having a good dining experience, and who pay a college fee which increases by $2000-$2500 every year would definitely have raised their voices to help the dining services.

Consider this: a regular student who paid a $44,000 comprehensive fee last year was presented with a dining service that offered trays. The same student, after paying $46,910 this year, is now getting a dining experience without trays. If that student comes to know that despite him or his parents paying a higher fee this year, the college dining services is having financial problems, he would want to do something about that because he’d be concerned.

Here I need to reiterate why Dining Services have less of a right to remove trays from dining halls than they think they have. Fortunately or unfortunately, if one is living on campus it is impossible to opt out of the meal-plan. In other words, Dining halls are a student’s primary source of food. Yet another way to phrase this would be saying that students are stuck with the dining halls. So given this, if the dining halls decide to remove a service that students were enjoying before, the students cannot just act like ‘consumers’ in a market economy—they can’t just boycott eating at the dining halls and look for alternatives. This is the reason why I said earlier that dining halls are not commercial enterprises but are rather service providers. They are here to serve the student body, and all their actions—whether aimed at cutting costs or benefiting the environment—need to be sanctioned by the students. Otherwise it would essentially be a breach of contract.

I personally tried to contact the dining managers and ask them the rationale for removing trays. Unfortunately, the crux of the response that I got was that the decision to remove trays was ‘firm and is unlikely to change.’ There are two problems with this attitude. First, they are not open to any sort of dialogue. Second, they are acting stubborn about this, which is odd for a place like Middlebury. Everyone remembers what happened with the college logo episode: the college came up with a new logo without consulting students, the students protested, the college officials maintained their stance that the new logo is good and change takes time to get accepted, the students gave their arguments and the college officials realized that perhaps the students were correct. If the college can revise its decision about the logo, what makes Dining Services think they are infallible?

In the end, another point that I’d like to raise is that the dining services would be unable to provide examples from any peer institution of dining halls running without trays. Even cheap fast food restaurants have trays; the restaurants which do not have trays are the ones where there are people to wait the tables. An eatery with a buffet arrangement simply has to provide trays to save the hassle of making multiple trips and handling more stuff than they could handle.

The fact of the matter is that we are worse off than before, even though we are paying more. What’s worse is that the stated benefit of taking away something we enjoyed, in this case (environmental sustainability) remains dubious, which is quite a shame.

Go to Town and Find Yourself a Killer Sandwich

Sam Dungan

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Grilled cheeses, cheese steaks, and chicken Caesar wraps make up a large part of the typical college student’s diet. Last Thursday, I woke up before twelve and decided to try something a little different than the panini sandwiches at Proctor. I had heard of a deli in town that would exceed my normal expectations of a sandwich. I set my sights on the Noonie Deli or “Noonie’s,” as Middlebury students call it. Located in Marbleworks, Noonie’s has an idyllic outside eating area. The falls of Otter Creek add a lovely backdrop. But let’s get on to the important part, the sandwiches.

Not to disappoint my expectations, my California Roast Beef sandwich on honey oat bread came with thinly-sliced roast beef covered with melted cheddar cheese and topped with tomato, green peppers and jalapeños with ranch dressing drizzled over the bread. For those who enjoy a messy, spicy sandwich and don’t mind further reducing the number of trees in Vermont by using obscene amounts of paper napkins, you should definitely consider the California Roast Beef.

Another monster of a sandwich was the Purple’s Pleasure. With a combination of avocado, bacon, turkey, lettuce, tomato, and hot peppers, all on top of wheat bread covered in a garlic-basil mayonnaise, this sandwich offered a different but equally fantastic taste as the California Roast Beef. My friend Abe and I ordered the sandwiches to go and ate outside on picnic tables overlooking the falls. While the décor of the inside is suitable, the joy of eating Noonie’s sandwiches is found while sitting under the sun, enjoying the weather and the view. My lunch, which consisted of a bottle of Orangina and a sandwich, came out to be a little over eight dollars. For a few dollars more, you can choose from a decent selection of organic chips.

Rarely do you ever come across a perfect dining experience, and my lunch at Noonie’s was marred by just a few things. In a restaurant that takes pride in freshly-baked bread and exotic sandwich ingredients, I found it ironic that the meat, cheese, and toppings of hot sandwiches were simply heated in the microwave as if passing through another part of an industrial assembly line. I understand that a restaurant must offer swift service to attend to the needs of customers with a tight schedule. In their haste, the sandwich-makers switched the bread for the two sandwiches that my friend and I ordered.

Even though Noonie’s doesn’t have the service of a five-star restaurant, it is a lot of fun. The bread amazes, and the abundance of toppings allows one to create almost any sandwich. I went again a few weeks later and ordered a roast beef sandwich with cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, and bacon. Although not the most complicated sandwich, it surpassed the “specials” I had tried previously. What is the take home message? Noonie’s, like any other deli, needs multiple visits; it has plenty of potential and should be tested. Maybe by experimenting a few times with different sandwiches you can find the right one. Who doesn’t like the idea of finding “the perfect sandwich?” So if you are getting tired of Ross pizza or running out of ideas at Proctor’s panini bar, walk down to Marbleworks on a sunny day and enjoy a sandwich from the Noonie Deli. There’s my opinion for you.

Middlebury: A Town, Not Just a College

Audrey Nelson

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It seems it is not unusual to find a Middlebury student who, over the course of their four years here, hardly ever ventured beyond campus into the actual town of Middlebury. Sure, the occasional dinner with visiting parents forces people to walk to Storm Café, or perhaps the weekly trip to Hannaford’s for Pop-Tarts and Trident, but generally speaking, the average student spends very little time getting to know this Vermont town.

How hard would it be to take a moment each week to connect with the community? Busy as a student’s life may be, the amount of time, money, and effort spent by the town on our college is extraordinary, and the least we could do is take a genuine interest. For example, one could mentor a child, volunteer at a community dinner, or talk to someone who is not a student at least once a day. Why not get to know a truly hearty Vermonter who makes his own syrup, or whose grandson scored in the latest Middlebury Union High School game? To see and to love Middlebury as a whole, and not simply the bits and pieces of it at the top of the hill, means that we appreciate the context from which our college was born.

Middlebury is a town with a history, a town with stories, a town with interesting and real people who have lives and strengths all their own. Volunteer at a local preschool, and you might come to find that a large part of our Middlebury community struggles to financially support its youngest residents. However, if one college student took the time each week to sit down and read to that very same preschool class, we would see that it doesn’t cost a thing to show that you care.

Candlelit Dinners at Proctor Miss Their Mark

Daniel Watson-Jones

Let me first say that when it comes to energy-use and the environment, my mind is as green as the next person’s. I wholeheartedly believe in the need to reduce the negative footprint that humans have on the natural world, and it’s important to me that we actively work to reverse the patterns of consumption and waste that have become so easy and familiar to us. However, I hate using candles to eat dinner and I think the larger goal of doing so is completely missed by those aiming for it.

My assumption is that the people advocating the use of candles (instead of the overhead lighting) during the dinner hours want to remind students of the energy usage that we often take for granted, and to draw attention to the many ways in which we can conserve on a daily basis. Instead, they inconvenience everyone and only service a gallant gesture that lacks substance or forethought. The overhead lights are left on for breakfast and lunch, the two meals of the day when natural light is actually available, and are turned off for the one third of meals when extra lighting is actually necessary. It makes no sense.

It’s not even that all the lights are turned off and replaced with the somewhat romantic and amusing atmosphere of candlelight; I enjoy the occasional change of pace as much as the next person.  Yet rather than turn them all off, only a portion of the fluorescents (and in Proctor they’re replaced by the less-efficient-but-dimmer emergency lights) are shut off, which turns the whole escapade into something worse than a gallant gesture: a half-assed gallant gesture. The final outcome is that all the good intentions behind the conservation movement come off as both irritating and irrational.

More importantly, when I drop my fork I can’t find it without groping around in the dark.

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.