When I came to Yale as a freshman with several food allergies, I quickly discovered that Yale Dining was a mess. Just weeks into the fall semester, I scooped a heap of infamous vegan ravioli onto my plate. At least the label said it was vegan. One hour and a large dose of Benadryl later, I was fast asleep in my bedroom on a cherished Friday night having experienced a severe allergic reaction. I later discovered that the label was actually correct — vegan ravioli was the intended dish — but the chef had instead cooked and served cheese ravioli. I learned not to trust Yale Dining.
As a senior, my skeptical attitude toward Yale Dining and its food remains unchanged. Until now, I have resisted the urge to speak out publicly. Just the other day, however, Commons was serving none other than vegan ravioli (although the label read “vegan tortellini”). Biting into a piece, I sensed that something was amiss. Three years wiser, I took a closer look and found that I was eating ravioli stuffed with cheese. Ignited by this jolt of déjà vu, I can remain quiet no longer. Yale Dining is still a mess and fails to serve its students adequately.
While my experience as someone with food allergies might not be representative of the average Yale dining experience, I firmly believe that it is indicative of a broader problem with Yale Dining. I have nothing against the men and women who work in our dining halls — they are affable and do their best to answer questions about ingredients. But an unmistakable air of laxity permeates our dining spaces.
The margarine is labeled as butter, the butter is labeled as cream cheese and the cream cheese is labeled as margarine. Entrée dishes are mislabeled — sometimes laughably so — or not labeled at all. Ingredient lists are often radically incomplete or nonexistent. And worst of all, the persistence of these sloppy mistakes and omissions suggests that Yale Dining is apathetic toward improving its services.
The crisis in labeling and laxity is not a deficiency that Yale Dining can simply ignore. While it may just be a daily point of humor for most diners, it makes life in the dining halls inordinately difficult and frustrating for anyone with dietary restrictions. My restriction is physical, but vegans, vegetarians and members of certain religions also have dietary restrictions. One wonders if any vegans unwittingly ate the “vegan” ravioli that night three years ago.
Even beyond the initial problem of our food conflicting with our immune systems or dietary restrictions, the issue of overall quality of food remains. Back in August, Yale Dining emailed its annual welcome back update, promising a continued commitment to enhancing its menus. As a customer, I have found no evidence that any such overall menu enhancement has taken place, and indeed, there is a frustrating disparity that exists between dinner menus from one night to the next. While one night’s menu might include a healthy mix of comfort and world flavors, the next night’s menu will include only exotic dishes and tastes. Also, the menus seem to operate on a rotating schedule, meaning that the food we ate on Monday this week was likely the same food we ate on Monday a few weeks ago. For me, redundancy detracts from an essential virtue of any dining service: variety.
While these latter observations verge on personal preference and may not seem irksome to some, I do not think I am alone in my scathing criticism of Yale Dining. Many upperclassmen have told me that the quality of the food and salads has only worsened in recent years. The food in Commons remains greasy, slimy and stale. While the food in the residential college dining halls is generally fresh, one cannot deny that there are some truly head-scratching combinations of ingredients.
Ultimately, we must admit that Yale Dining does not fulfill what should be its basic function: to provide all Yale diners, dietary restrictions or not, with consistently good food. I don’t trust my food, and neither should you, at least until Yale Dining decides to address its shortcomings once and for all. On Yale Dining’s website, Executive Director Rafi Taherian claims that “[o]ur goal is to exceed your dining expectations at every meal.”
Unfortunately, it is difficult for Yale Dining to exceed expectations when they aren’t even coming close to meeting them.
Robert Batista is a senior in Timothy Dwight College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.