Written by Aaron Thomsen
I should begin with an apology, because this article is long overdue; however, since it attempts to rectify what I perceive as a careless wrong, I felt best guided by thoughtful deliberation, and I have always related more to the tortoise than the hare.
The title I had originally chosen, “In Poor Taste”, was, in my opinion, a witty play on words, since the article began as a response to Caitlin Buckley’s September 13 commentary on the Commons fare. Her article, entitled “Oh the many reasons to eschew the Commons food”, (The Megaphone Vol. C, issue 1) exploits a social pastime that seems perennially in vogue at Southwestern—complaining about the meals offered in the cafeteria. Though the author falls short of delivering “many reasons” to boycott the Commons, she does manage, with a conviction that rests on a single adjective—“nasty”, to criticize the way the food tastes. In true sophomoric fashion, and in not so many words, the author succeeds in contradicting her claim while demonstrating her own naiveté, spreading some pernicious rumors, and undermining the efforts of students, administrators and Sodexho staff to provide meals that meet not only the nutrition standards of a generally health conscious community, but that appeal to the taste buds as well.
Perhaps Ms. Buckley does not realize that naming the Sodexho staff “some of the sweetest people [she’s] ever met” seems disingenuous after having gossiped about how they prepare the meals with “high levels of MSG” or “laxatives” only a couple of paragraphs prior. Likely the author is unaware that food advisory committee meetings are open for public attendance and participation, and that they offer a more direct avenue for feedback than the “informal” ones she lists, all with elusive results.
Several of my friends who work in the Commons first drew my attention to Ms. Buckley’s article. They were understandably distressed after reading it.
“We work hard to make these kids feel at home,” one chef told me, indignation and hurt etched into her brow. “We know it’s not the same, but we do our best.”
I found myself at a loss for words, embarrassed as a student and angry on behalf of the people I look forward to seeing at mealtime each day. I later sat down with a group of chefs and prep staff to hear their reactions to what Ms. Buckley described as nothing less than the mistreatment of students by forcing them to eat in the Commons. This idea was met with some confusion.
“If the food is so terrible, then why does attendance [at meals] continue to rise?” one chef asked amid sounds of agreement from the rest of the group. They all confirmed that results of the Food Advisory Committee meetings are relayed to the cooking staff and that they make adjustments accordingly. I listened as for the majority of our conversation the group reiterated their commitment to excellence in their work, which is clearly a source of pride.
“We go out of our way to please the kids,” one person assured me. Several others went on to list many cases in which they have prepared special orders upon request.
Before our conversation came to a close, I referred to this statement from Ms. Buckley’s article—“…there are very few days that we get something that tastes like it was made with care for who was eating it.”
At this, the group all turned their heads away from me and fixed their eyes, some moist, on their own folded hands, on the wall, or through the window at things outside. A silence followed that resonated with eloquence their words could not match. I might just as well have slapped each of them in the face for the impact of Ms. Buckley’s reckless allegation.
And so, in order to counter that effect, I would like to express in print my appreciation for the generosity that characterizes the S.U. Commons. Thank you, all of you who go above and beyond in your effort to provide a meal that bears the care, if not the “taste”, of home. I know many students share my gratitude.