Sneaking food from Yale’s dining halls is not for the lazy or the cowardly.
First, it requires premeditation: planning with the help of online menus is always smart. Second, it requires equipment: napkins, plastic baggies, backpacks and Tupperware allow for organization and ease of transportation. And third, it requires a daring demeanor and a poker face; never let them see what you have — you may end up before Yale’s disciplinary Executive Committee.
But for many hungry Yale students who become dining hall bandits in the ever-pressing quest for free food, the effort is worth it.
“It’s definitely an art form,” one enterprising freshman said.
It can hardly be denied that foraging for food — preferably of the free variety — occupies a large percentage of the average college student’s time and energy. Whether attending organizational meetings just for the free pizza, or chewing on day-old bread from Atticus Cafe, Yalies find many opportunities to fatten their belts without slimming their wallets.
Taking large amounts of food from the dining halls is by far the most common method of getting midnight snacks without shelling out more cash.
Stephanie Bloch ’06 and her Swing Space suitemates have an organized method for sneaking out dining hall food. They have a “food backpack” in which they keep various sizes of Tupperware containers. Bloch said before they go to eat, they look at the online menus in order to know what size Tupperware to take with them. Then, once in the dining hall, they collectively gather plates of the desired food, deposit it into the Tupperware, and leave with a full backpack.
“This is efficiency at its max,” Bloch proudly said.
Back in their room, they often give away the food at parties and to friends.
“It’s not a stealing thing as much as a Robin Hood thing,” Bloch said. “You take from Commons and give to the hungry.”
They certainly are not the only ones who feel entitled.
In Shari Wiseman ’06, Ari Romney ’06, and Lynn Feng’s ’06 Bingham common room, the evidence of dining hall plundering is openly displayed in several neat plastic containers on top of their refrigerator.
“It’s better than having to go out and buy snacks,” Feng said.
The suitemates said they regularly take food from the dining hall — particularly Oreos, snack mix, cookies, cereal, and milk.
“In Commons, they have these cups with lids,” Wiseman said. “Totally revolutionizes stealing.”
All three agree that the 21-meal plan is too expensive and limiting. Romney said she rarely goes to breakfast. Because of this, the suitemates said they never feel guilty about taking advantage of the system.
“Yale — is this giant faceless institution, and we pay them a lot,” Wiseman said. “So, we all feel entitled to take food from them.”
Another group of freshmen even admitted to being supplied food by a Dining Services employee.
“We have a man on the inside who provides us with food,” they said.
Occasionally, however, students push the dining hall boundaries too far.
Last fall, Joshua Lobert ’03, Amman Fenster ’03 and a friend noticed that Berkeley College’s kitchen was open around midnight. The three went in to get ice cream, and suddenly found themselves surrounded by five or six police, Lobert said.
“I don’t think I even got to touch the ice cream, the police were in there so fast,” Lobert recalled.
Although Lobert and Fenster said they did nothing wrong, the three friends eventually had to appear before the Executive Committee, which charged them with breaking and entering. They did not receive any punishment.
“It was kind of a bizarre experience,” Lobert said.
Other dining halls are less strict. Calhoun College’s dining hall is open to students from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on weeknights to provide students with late night snack foods, said Dennis Hong ’05, a Calhoun College master’s aide.
“It’s all for the students,” said Brian Crowley, a manager in Calhoun’s dining hall.
When pilfered dining hall food does not provide sufficient nourishment, students turn elsewhere. One popular alternative is Atticus’ free day-old bread, which the Chapel Street bakery puts on the sidewalk in paper bags between 11 p.m. and midnight. Joel Maleonado, an Atticus employee, said that most of the bread is taken by hungry Yale students.
Megan Pugh ’04 used to visit Atticus as often as twice a week, but now said she comes once every two weeks.
“Why buy this bread if you can get it for free?” she said.
And then, there is always the abundance of free food offered by organizations and Master’s Teas.
“A lot of events are designed just so you go for the free food,” Wiseman said.
“My suitemate has a joke about the free food society,” she said. “They would go to a lot of Forestry School events because they have a lot of free food.”
As Wiseman said: “So much of college is just engineering ways to get yourself fed.”