Bianca Bracho-Perez ’06 was eating dinner with friends in Ezra Stiles, minding her own business, when a hush fell over the dining hall. All eyes went up to the elevated area where someone began to preach.
“I thought it was a little strange, but I thought it was cool he had the guts to just come out and start preaching to an entire dining hall of people,” Bracho-Perez said.
For everyone who thinks that Zeta Psi late night is the main place to catch Yalies doing all sorts of unexpected things, think again. Love ’em or hate ’em, dining halls are a huge part of Yale life. Not only do they provide the sustenance Yalies need to get through their busy days, but they are also one of the main social scenes on campus. The dining hall social scene, however, is becoming more and more limited as new restrictions are keeping people captive in their own colleges for meals.
Over-crowding in some dining halls has led to restrictions in all but Timothy Dwight, Jonathan Edwards and Stiles. From 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., students in the other nine colleges are the only people allowed to eat in their own dining halls. Other students can only eat in those halls if accompanied by a host.
“We didn’t want to go to this level, but we had to do it because we ran out of seats,” Pierson dining hall manager Ian Hobbs said. “My dining room only holds 180 people and we’re putting over 450 to 480 in here in a two hour period. It became very uncomfortable for any student to enjoy themselves and have a nice meal when they felt rushed and there’s nowhere to sit.”
The restrictions in Pierson are probably the most contested of all, as the college’s regulations are the most all-encompassing. Not only is there the 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. restriction rule, but there are no transfers allowed other than Davenporters and Saybrugians. Davenport students are allowed because Davenport is being renovated this year, leaving them without a dining hall of their own. Saybrook is a special case: because it was particularly welcoming to dining-hall-less Piersonites while Pierson was being renovated last year, Pierson Master Harvey Goldblatt decided to return the favor by letting a limited number of Saybrugians dine in Pierson every night.
Last year, as Piersonites were left without a dining hall to call home, Peter Furia ’05 and a friend wrote the rap “BK2NIGHT,” lamenting Berkeley’s exclusivity. But this year, Furia is on the other side of the dining hall table.
“As a principle I don’t like restrictions, especially in Pierson because I think Pierson prides itself on emphasizing community,” Furia said. “I think community matters a lot to us, so I’m sad to see we have restrictions. At the same time, I understand that it can be very tough on the dining hall staff to have 300 students come through in a night. As nice as it would be to let anyone in, you have to be understanding of how hard it is on them.”
Furia said that he feels like the Pierson dining hall staff is more tolerant of transfers than the staff in other colleges such as Berkeley, and they are willing to bend the rules for people bringing friends.
Some Piersonites, however, are not so happy with the new restrictions. Meghan Titzer ’06 said she already felt limited enough by her dining-hall choices, and the dining situation does not seem to be getting any better.
“I feel like the options are getting fewer and fewer for a group of friends that’s not all from one college,” Titzer said. “I understand the necessity of the restrictions, at least from the dining hall people’s perspective, but I think the claim that they’ve run out of food isn’t always true.”
Other non-Piersonites are not as understanding of the Pierson rules, or the whole concept of dining hall restrictions in general.
Taraneh Nazem ’07 said she has often experience the same problem as Titzer.
“I’ve gone out several times with about five girls in different colleges and have had to trudge from dining hall to dining hall,” Nazem said. “I think it’s ridiculous.”
Berkeley’s restrictions stem specifically from the popularity of its organic food. But as most Yalies have noticed by this point, organic food has left the confines of Berkeley and is popping up in all of the colleges. The Yale Sustainable Food Project, headed up by Melina Shannon-Dipietro and Josh Viertel, has been collaborating with YUDS to bring more and more of its food to every Yale student.
While some students rave about the organic cuisine, others say organic products are not just being introduced, they’re invading.
“I think they should stop going organic,” Stephen Hopkins ’06 said. “I don’t like vegan waffles. If they want to do that they should have regular and vegan. I feel like we’re being infiltrated.”
But the fact that Berkeley’s line of Yalies is as long as the line of Q-Pac-ers at Toad’s on a Saturday night shows some students are, in fact, responding well to the organic movement. Shannon-Dipietro sees this response as a logical one.
“The project is about really good food, and we think about good food as being about authentic ingredients,” she said.
Shannon-Dipietro says she is thrilled with the success of the sustainable food project so far and students’ reactions to it — she said that she has had students come up to her and rave about the food, particularly the lamb and feta patties and grass-fed burgers. Hopefully, Shannon-Dipietro said, the project will move more fully into dining halls in the future. But for now, students still must try their luck sneaking past Christine and Annette, the guards of the Berkeley organic fortress.
But despite increasing strictness in dining hall policy, Yalies still face plenty of choices. And whether students actually enjoy their cod bites or are unwilling prisoners of their meal plan, dining halls are an essential element of Yale life, both socially and nutritionally.
“I think that food should be a really central part of one’s day,” Shannon-Dipietro said. “We’re eating three times a day, sometimes more. A meal should not be just a time to fuel up. There shouldn’t be the idea of having to eat because we have to get through the day. It should be a time to stop and connect with the people around you.”