May 23, 2008

Editorial: Tough to swallow

Bartlett Dining Commons is far from perfect: Its pizza is substandard, its meals are overpriced, and its coffee tastes alarmingly little like coffee. But despite these faults, Bartlett is easily the best dining facility on campus due to its convenient and higher quality à la carte dining. In light of this, the University's plan to convert Bartlett to "all-you-care-to-eat" service, in the style of B-J and Pierce, is misguided.

The vast majority of students who eat at B-J or Pierce know the intrinsic drawback to buffet style: The food is worse, be it for reasons of mass production or Aramark scrimping in advance of assumed all-you-care-to-eat overconsumption.

The move from Bartlett's more popular system to buffet style, then, is problematic. The University's justification is threefold: first, that buffet-style dining facilitates a greater sense of house community; second, that a buffet would better accommodate those with heftier diets; and third, that the first two goals could be accomplished without sacrificing food quality. On all counts, the justifications wilt under scrutiny like bad Pierce lettuce.

As it stands, students at B-J and Pierce are not permitted to take food from their respective dining halls. Administrators allege that this increases camaraderie among housemates who have more incentive to stay at their house table than do their Bartlett counterparts, but switching to all-you-care-to-eat would have little effect on strengthening community, given that students very often linger at their house tables even in the à-la-carte atmosphere. Most students who grab food to go do so because they have to get to class, not because they hate their housemates.

The claim that students who eat more would benefit from the switch may be correct, but it's not worth lowering the quality of food for everyone in order to satisfy the appetites of a select few. Those who eat more can always choose a more flexible meal plan to suit their voracious needs.

Finally, Katie Callow-Wright, the director of undergraduate student housing, asserted that it "would be unacceptable from our perspective if the food quality at Bartlett changed." But if it is indeed true that Bartlett could convert to all-you-care-to-eat and still maintain its superiority, it warrants asking why B-J and Pierce do not serve food of equal quality. The answer is, of course, that it is in fact not possible to switch systems without experiencing an unappetizing reality—that the buffet system inherently produces inferior food.

It's certainly true that a change needs to be made in the dining halls, but the University is moving in the completely wrong direction. We don't need to make the good dining option more similar to the inferior ones. Administrators should do just the opposite: Convert B-J and Pierce into Bartlett's à la carte style.

The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Managing Editor, Viewpoints Editors, and an additional Editorial Board member.