The Yale Dining app baffles me. The app presents a list of all the residential dining halls, their supposed student traffic and an option to view each college’s menu per meal — this is where you lose me.
Every Yale student knows that the residential colleges serve a uniform menu for every meal, every day. If the Silliman kitchen says that Tuesday lunch is pork meatballs and cheese lasagna, then Morse serves the same balls of meat and cheesy noodles, as does Hopper. Once the high deity of Yale Dining decrees the second Tuesday of December “Italian” day, it subjects the digestive systems of some 5,500 undergraduates to a carb-heavy feast and questionable garlic breath for the remainder of the day.
It wasn’t always like this. There was a time when a picky Yale student had the liberty to choose from varying dinner options across the colleges: Greek-style lamb in Trumbull, blackened chicken in Branford, pasta primavera in Silliman — all on the same night!
In Yale Dining’s attempt to serve a balanced variety of culinary experiences, its stringent regulations on ingredients and preparatory methods extract every last drop of “authenticity” from the meal at hand — take Mexican day, for example. Already, any meal prepared hundreds of miles from its place of origin and modified for mass production, will hardly resemble what we might imagine constitutes an “authentic” taco or an “authentic” bowl of beans. Nevertheless, at least we have the chef offering some degree of integrity to the entire operation by infusing our meals with personal style or family flavors. Though rather romantic, if I can’t have an authentic bowl of Mexican beans, I would prefer an authentic bowl of Chef Stu’s beans.
None of this is to say that I do not see the case for uniformity. A single menu across the colleges simplifies the logistics of ordering the correct ingredients and planning enough options for everyone. It also mitigates any threat of students overrunning a single dining hall on any given chicken-tender Thursday. On a social level, the uniform menu provides a common experience that two students can share. Asking, “What’s for dinner?” can become the source of collective joy or collective suffering.
We might even argue that the uniform menu embodies the level playing field on which Yale endeavors to place its students. It introduces equality to the edible by ensuring that every student receives the same opportunity to nourish their body. A different menu in a different college might physically and psychologically advantage some over others: certain students might eat a more nutritious meal while others revel in the rich gluttony of chicken-tender Thursday. A uniform meal schedule corrects inequalities in proximity and convenience by ensuring every college has the same options — at least in theory.
But uniformity is not our reality. For starters, different dining halls run different hours, making Hopper ideal for early birds on the weekends, Morse and Stiles convenient for athletes just out of late practice. In addition, as much as Yale Dining would like to deny it, the quality of food varies drastically from college to college — Trumbull serves more flavorful grilled chicken, and Berkeley never fails to offer crisp salad greens. To add insult to injury, select colleges consistently offer alternative meal options for days when the hot food lineup just doesn’t cut it. Berkeley regularly lays out the bibimbap bar, while students from all over campus flock to Franklin for a comforting bowl of ramen.
In other words, the Yale Dining app urges us to imagine that we inhabit a world, or a university, that distributes a uniform college experience. Any undergraduate can tell you this is far from the truth — some first years live on Old Campus, while others live in Murray; we have STEM majors who sequester themselves to Science Hill, while some humanities kids have never heard of Science Hill; some of us come to campus wondering who could ever vote for Trump, only to meet a suitemate sporting a MAGA hat.
This begins to affect the way we see life at Yale after we get here. As first years, we feel obligated to commit to an extracurricular in the first semester. Sophomore year, we’re supposed to fall in love with a major and continue to work at the same extracurricular we thought we enjoyed during our first semester. By junior year, we’re expected to seize that top leadership position, or take the semester abroad. But what happens when we fall out of love with the major we once loved, or lose interest in the extracurricular that we dedicated half of our Yale career to? The simple truth is that the Yale Experience is not singular and shouldn’t be, so why do we continue to pretend that we all come from similar backgrounds or follow the same trajectory after we get here? One of the most valuable things about Yale is how different we are — our niche interests, varying childhoods and what we view as worthwhile.
After all, even pasta comes in thousands of different shapes, with a plethora of sauces in which to drench the noodle. Italian day need not confine its pasta to marinara or bolognese — just as we vary in sauce preferences, academic interests, favorite noodle shapes and life experiences, we should always remember to revel in the diversity that makes Yale a cross-section of life.
Ainsley Weber is a first year in Silliman College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .