Food is abundant on Yale’s campus. It’s in the dining halls, of course, but also at club meetings, in first-year counselor suites, at information sessions and at a large variety of other gatherings. In fact, I cannot think of a recent on-campus event I’ve attended where food was not present. It’s used as an incentive to join groups, a reward for studying hard, a coping mechanism for stress and a facilitator of social interactions. Empty boxes of snacks from the preferred cafes surrounding Yale are often abandoned in classrooms or by recycling bins near the meetings at which they were enjoyed. The residential college butteries and emails with subject lines like “Extra Chipotle leftover from meeting! Come finish it in the common room!” entice students with promises of delicious temporary distractions from their schoolwork. While I’m glad that people make efforts to avoid wasting the leftovers from events, the reality is that these treats are not actually needed. They create habitual unhealthy eating amongst students and, more importantly, replace healthy strategies for academic motivation and dealing with the pressures and anxieties — both social and educational — that Yale students face.
To be clear, I love an Insomnia cookie (or three) just as much as the next person. I also understand that people do get hungry and that sometimes the snacks offered at a meeting or late-night event satiate that hunger. Nonetheless, for the most part, students aren’t consuming all this free food because they’re starving. They’re eating it because it’s there.
The “Freshman 15” is no myth. Though many people don’t actually gain 15 pounds, this allusion to predictable college weight gain is at least somewhat familiar to everyone. The beginning of college is the first time in most people’s lives when their food consumption is neither monitored by parents nor limited by the grim options at the school cafeteria. Yale College’s fourteen dining halls, its butteries and the plethora of surrounding restaurants and stores offer more than enough culinary options to satisfy all of its students. Nevertheless, events on campus consistently provide even more food to a population that struggles to stave off college weight gain. It seems contradictory to the students’ best interests to constantly tempt them with caloric treats.
However, the most pressing issue lies not in the food’s nutritional value — or lack thereof — but in the instrumental role it plays in these gatherings. Snacks persuade people to attend academic and extracurricular events and often are the only reason students show up. Butteries as well as organized study breaks during midterms or finals motivate people to study hard with the promise of dessert as a reward. They create a mentality amongst students that unhealthy food is crucial for academic success, and that it’s a perfectly acceptable — even necessary — method of coping with extreme stress. Food presents people with a quick fix — a superficial, very temporary solution — for their anxieties, academic and otherwise. Sure, eating a dessert releases endorphins and provides a momentary escape from schoolwork. But habitually using food to avoid thinking about stressful situations makes it much more difficult to properly address the causes of tension in one’s life. It teaches people that instead of recognizing and dealing with their problems in order to find real, long-term solutions, they can just eat some cake and forget about them. The presence of food at social events, often as the main attraction, enables students to bond over a shared experience and perhaps a common love — or hatred — for the foods provided. I understand the reasoning behind this, especially when it comes to events for first years, many of whom are shy and struggle to find common ground with one another early in the year. Yet students should not need food in order to converse with one another. Social anxiety is not uncommon, and the ability to hold a conversation is an acquired skill for some people. When food is presented as a solution to social discomfort, it deprives students of the chance to develop the social abilities necessary for adult lives full of small talk and conversations with strangers. Food appears to be an easy solution to a few moments of awkward silence, a last-resort conversation starter. In reality, though, we should accept that conversations won’t always be fluid or easy, especially with new acquaintances. They should be regarded as opportunities to refine one’s social skills, with some moments of silence accepted as perfectly normal.
I’m not advocating for the shutdown of butteries or a ban on snacks at school events. I actually don’t think anything should change. I do believe, however, that people should be more aware of why they’re eating and whether or not they’re trying to ignore a larger issue. Sometimes, though, a cookie is just a cookie, and that’s okay, too.
Pascale Bradley is a first year in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.