It’s hard to be a vegetarian at Yale. Menus change every day, and not always for the better. Two nights ago, my dinner consisted of steamed broccoli, boiled cauliflower, beans and those corn “hush puppies” that are about the size of a walnut. Delicious, sure. A complete meal? Not so much — I ate a smattering of sides rather than a filling main course.
This is not a condemnation of the flavor but rather a structural problem with the way we think about meals and student life advocacy at Yale. The News reports that over 80 percent of menu options are vegetarian, but these options are designed to be accessories to a meat rather than the main event. And it’s especially frustrating that the fate of one of the few predictable vegetarian meals at the Asian station in Commons at Schwarzman Center hangs in bureaucratic purgatory because of Schwarzman Center renovations.
I’m picky, sure, but it’s not just vegetarians who are unhappy. A 2015 survey found that more than half of Yalies were dissatisfied with their meal plans. It’s easy to see why. The “Anytime Meal Plan,” the standard meal plan and the “Any-14 Meal Plan” are roughly the same (high) price — and we’re required to get one of them if we live on campus. These plans are so expensive that for many students it’s actually cheaper to eat out every meal than pay for any of the three plans. If we’re paying a pretty penny for a meal plan and none of them are adequately filling, that’s a problem.
To whom should I turn to suggest fixes to this problem? Certainly, I could talk to dining hall staff members and fill out the Yale Dining survey — and I do — but structural considerations about the menu itself are not their focus. Our dining hall workers, who fed us yesterday in a veritable snow-mageddon, have much more important things on their, pun intended, plate. Talking to my dean or head of college doesn’t really make sense, and escalating this to the level of the Yale administration is a little excessive. In fact, there really isn’t any kind of forum for airing these sorts of grievances directly affecting student life.
This is where the Yale College Council ought to step in, that group of student leaders who will undoubtedly make great state senators and nonprofit board members one day. Many organizations around campus, including the YCC, are quick to jump on issues of national importance — think mental health reform, and the recent travel restrictions. However, we often forget that the day-to-day of our Yale experiences are defined much more by mundane issues; ideas that aren’t sexy enough for The New York Times often get swept under the rug here on campus. I’ve written before about my displeasure with the YCC and the many forgettable reports they write, but this is a way that I think the YCC could influence campus life in a productive way.
This is not a new idea. Some YCC members have recognized this, too; former YCC President Michael Herbert ’16 ran on a platform mostly based on introducing whole milk to the dining halls, something that athletes on campus had apparently really wanted. Such a campaign sounds silly prima facie, but small changes like that can improve our quality of life substantially. Fixing such problems requires an often-boring understanding of Yale’s bureaucracy, which puts the YCC in the best position of being able to address them. Who else pads their resumes delving into the gnarls and knots of static bureaucracy — other than me, anyway? There’s even a task force dedicated to investigating meal plans, but according to the YCC website, it has not made any headway. And why would it? Addressing the small stuff like gripes with the grapes or Yale’s annoying notion that I shouldn’t be allowed to swipe into entryways in other colleges is neither as fun, nor as important, as tackling larger issues. But if we really want to improve our Yale, there’s no better way to do it than to lobby the YCC to focus more on issues that can make our daily lives just a little bit better. After all, getting rid of the Asian station in Commons is a travesty we should fight.
Shreyas Tirumala is a junior in Trumbull College. His column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .