Those who know me know I am passionate about my Yale Sustainable Food Project grass-fed burgers. I did not take their disappearance from the dining halls this semester lightly.
What used to be a weekly tradition has now been relegated to a semi-semesterly treat. This has led to a major gap in my weekly schedule: Nothing quite compares to the taste of those hockey-puck-shaped grass-fed hamburgers I used to be able to rely on every Wednesday or Thursday.
I had heard several rumors about the disappearance of the burgers this semester, and had written a column detailing my investigation into the mystery, discussing whispers of extreme budget cuts and gossip of sinister unsustainable meat. The general secrecy which veiled this (personally) momentous change was particularly troubling. Just before my original column was published, however, I was finally able to meet with some higher-ups in Yale Dining, which shed some light on the facts of the case, as well as on Yale Dining policy in general.
So, where’s the beef? Apparently some members of Yale Dining noticed last spring that different batches of the non-grass-fed patties that used to also be available in the dining halls varied greatly in fat content and even in color. According to Thomas Peterlik, the director of Yale Dining’s Culinary Resource Center, this led to a general investigation into hamburgers at Yale. Soon, Yale Dining reached a revelation and realized that, if indeed it fully subscribed to the idea of sustainability and grass-fed meat, then it should serve only grass-fed burgers at all meals.
By December, Yale Dining had managed to find a vender large enough to provide enough grass-fed patties to keep the dining halls stocked with them at all times. Once this happened, Yale Dining decided it no longer needed the traditional hockey-puck grass-fed burgers and significantly decreased their frequency in the menu rotation. It’s worth noting that this shift was not economically motivated (and is not, in fact, a cheaper alternative).
Additionally, Yale Dining conducted focus groups and discovered that Yale students’ main complaint about the dining halls was that the dishes were too repetitive and the routine was too obvious. The burger’s reduction was also a result of this — part of a general effort to mix up the menus.
After meeting with some at Yale Dining, I have become convinced that it is one of the most responsive departments at Yale. The people at Yale Dining seem to care genuinely about student satisfaction, and they’re excited about making great food. (They’re even giving some friends and me a burger taste test.) I wonder what it is about the food industry in particular that excites people to innovate and respond to customer demand. Perhaps food’s responsibility for basic human survival makes it an intrinsically interesting department to work in.
The meat of the issue, though, is that even despite the well-intentioned and un-scandalous motives of Yale Dining, neither explanation for the burger’s reduction is fully satisfactory. The new burgers simply taste worse than the old grass-fed burgers, and taste is probably what we care about most. Additionally, I’ve noticed varying quality across dining halls in the new burgers.
The scheduling argument is not persuasive either — not when the blissful taste of the old grass-fed burgers is taken into account. The burgers were Yale’s culinary equivalent to weekends. To remove them because, as real weekends do, they came predictably every week is flawed decision making.
I applaud the new commitment to serve only grass-fed patties and the continuing commitment to ensure that our meat is healthy. I understand that the old, hand-formed grass-fed burgers cannot be purchased in the bulk quantities necessary to serve them all the time. I also understand that rotating the old grass-fed burgers into the menu once a week while keeping the new grass-fed patties at the college grills would likely raise the overall amount of money being poured into Yale’s hamburger budget.
Despite these concessions, the fundamental question still remains: Why have the original grass-fed burgers yet to be returned to us?
I am certainly not arguing that the overall dining hall budget should be increased in a time of economic hardship in order to pay for hamburgers. However, I do think it’s worth knowing whether student opinion would like to see funds diverted from somewhere else in the dining hall (pistachio ice cream, maybe?) and put into burgers.
I know that I am not the lone lover of the old grass-fed burgers — I’d wager that there’s an army of us who would be willing to see cuts elsewhere in the dining hall in exchange for a return of the old grass-fed burgers.
The only explanation must be that there is a disconnect in the hamburger information exchange between Yale Dining and Yale students. I urge Yale Dining to survey students to conclusively find out what we think of the grass-fed burger disappearance. And, if my conjecture about the army of burger-lovers is correct, then I encourage my fellow soldiers to fill out comment cards and to tell Yale Dining what we’re thinking.
I, for one, still want my original grass-fed burgers back. And I trust that Yale Dining will work to do what it takes to please its burger-loving customers.
Harrison Marks is a junior in Timothy Dwight College.