Dora Guo

Is this the year of the freshman *negative* 15? A number of students at Yale College certainly seem to think so. From an anonymous Instagram food critic by the name of @bulldog.bitez to the dining hall staff themselves, it seems complaining about the food has actually brought Yalies together. The biggest contention, however, seems to be not the food itself, but the lack thereof. Our food is being rationed, and the frosh I talked to think they know why. A college filled with nutritionally and socially starved teenagers is the ideal breeding ground for conspiracies. From attempting to promote New Haven businesses (my Doordash bill has become a genuine source of anxiety) to cutting costs (Daddy Yale’s endowment is not looking too good this year), there is no shortage of crazy theories on Yale’s diet of starvation.

Realistically, it must be to prevent food waste, but let the conspiracy theories reign. If Yale has taught me one thing in my four weeks here, it is that intellectual curiosity must never be stifled.

I’m told, however, there is a simple solution to this problem: “Pretend to be an athlete and they give you extra food.” Yale Dining’s best kept secret was revealed to me by a first year in gym shorts and Nike slides, clutching a plate of six chicken breasts and a side of four milks. Is this true? You tell me! I will never achieve the level of physical fitness required to pull off this heist.

The food itself, as @bulldog.bitez so eloquently puts it, is “mediocre but not offensive” at its best. The multigrain bread rolls closely resemble either a hockey puck or a baseball, according to the comments section of the Instagrammer’s posts. “They are so dry that the texture is almost impressive,” said the owner of @bulldog.bitez in an interview with the News. “I find it funny that this single item is so ubiquitous across every dinner. They never change the type of roll — they never do like a different type of bread or anything like that.”

This tragic misuse of carbs doesn’t end with bread. “The rice pilaf tonight continues Yale Dining’s unfortunate tradition of mushy, clumpy, flavorless rice with the scallions doing little to help a dish that desperately needed saving,” according to @bulldog.bitez.

Personally, I am not as concerned with the bland dishes as I am with Yale Dining’s attempt to infuse some worldly flavor into our meals. The blasphemous pineapple mango salsa is a signature condiment and the favored topping for when Yale Dining decides to venture into “ethnic” cuisine. Who thought tropical fruit over Moroccan chicken was a good idea?

Still, I suppose it beats the frequent use of water as a garnish. From soggy butter chicken to limp kale (or is it grass?) and collard greens, first years are left wondering whether Yale Dining mistakes us for sea creatures. The moistness of the food would suggest so. 

Frank Jackson, the man at the heart of Pierson dining, sums it up rather diplomatically: “As far as the food goes, I don’t feel like you guys are getting the best.” The “explosiveness of what the menu was before COVID is not there,” he tells me. He promises, however, that “we’re doing as much as we can, in a safe way,” although it may not seem that way in the eyes — or mouths — of privileged Yalie frosh who haven’t ever spent this long away from Mom’s cooking.

Honestly, and I say this fully aware that I’ve spent an entire article complaining about it, the food isn’t even that bad. It’s just a convenient outlet for conversation and frustration. Despite the inevitable social awkwardness that follows a five-month quarantine and the isolation of Zoom classes and residential college lockdowns, I know that I can always rely on the consistent “mediocrity” of Yale dining to bond with the cute guy at Branford.

As I wander into the Pierson dining hall to ask for my daily apple, two peaches and a banana, I wonder if I am being judged. Will I forever be known as the three-fruit girl? Is it unethical to take extra food and squirrel it away for later? As I ponder the philosophical implications of my food choices, I realize just how fundamental a role it plays in my life. If I’m not eating a meal, I’m talking about my last one, or thinking about my next one. My life revolves around food, just as much as I am alive because of it.

Vanika Mahesh | vanika.mahesh@yale.edu