The University’s 12 residential college dining halls are open again and welcoming students back for those much maligned but truly comfortable dining hall meals we have all come to miss. All residential college dining halls, that is, except for one. Berkeley, home of Yale’s haute cuisine, is turning more hungry students away than ever before.
The Berkeley Complex — a campuswide awareness that Berkeleyites are eating better than the rest of us — did not begin with last year’s Wall Street Journal poll ranking the college’s food the best cafeteria cuisine in the nation. But the piece, which praised Berkeley’s chairs, china and ambitious transition to a fully organic menu, did nothing to quell our sense of gastronomic inequity that began with college renovations four years earlier.
Berkeley was the first residential college overhauled, and so it was the first college to get a brand new kitchen with better food options and a made-to-order grill. So the Journal feature was for most of us just the preservative-free icing on an already inedible cake. Of course the college food tester dined below the Berkeley antlers, we figured — the cafeteria is so exclusive most Yale students can’t even get in. It’s the Ivy League’s Balthazar.
As long as any current undergraduates have been at Yale, there have been caveats for admission to this most elite of halls. For years, students in other colleges needed only a Berkeleyite’s sponsorship to get in for a meal. This was not unreasonable; part of the function of a residential college dining hall is to serve as a gathering place for members of the college’s students. It is only fair that Berkeley students be able to find seats during the lunch rush. But since the college went organic this year, and the quality discrepancy grew even greater, Berkeley has virtually shut its doors to any but its own. In addition to creating homey cloisters within the larger University, the residential college dining hall system is valuable because it encourages students to venture out of their own colleges. More than fostering community and saving chairs for students in the college, this newest restriction proves exclusionary in excess.
Looking beyond the student life ramifications, we are faced with our greatest lament of Berkeley’s new policy: the food is better there, and we (the non-Berkeleyites among us) want access to it, too. Berkeley should be commended for their initiative in this case. Berkeley’s conversion to an organic kitchen required considerable planning, substantial funding and noteworthy commitment to an admirable goal. But still, all students pay the same amount for a meal plan, and to bar those not lucky enough to be randomly assigned to Berkeley, besides being anathema to the spirit of the residential college dining hall system, seems just plain unfair.
If this project works and proves economically feasible, perhaps eventually all residential colleges will have Berkeley-quality food. Until then, though, we hope the college’s administrators will open the dining hall to more non-Berkeley students — if only on specific nights or at specific times or in specific sections of the dining hall. The important thing is letting people in. In time, the rest of Yale’s Berkeley Complex will subside, provided we’re not as a rule being kept out.