Some parts of Princeton you just shouldn't take home with you
Eating cereal in my kitchen one morning, over a year after my Princeton graduation, I had a sudden flashback to dining hall breakfasts freshman year – a cornucopia of brand name cereals that seems lavish in retrospect, plus frozen yogurt to put on top of them and an endless supply of Diet Coke to finally eliminate all nutritional benefit of the day's first meal. Or I could have eaten something wholesome if I preferred. It took several minutes to realize the trigger of this remembrance. Finally, though, it struck me; I was eating my generic "Flakes of Corn" with a dining hall spoon that had somehow traveled with me through two years at the eating clubs and into my alumna life.
Amazed at one spoon's staying power, I wondered how many of my classmates also pilfered minor dining items? A lot, it turns out, if last year's numbers are anything to go on. In one year alone Dining Services replaced 8,400 spoons, 16,800 forks and 4,650 mugs. These numbers do not include Frist, which in its first three years of operation lost $41,940 worth of items, forcing Dining Services to switch from permanent ware to disposable containers. Some of these items are destroyed in the normal course of business, but many more make it into backpacks and back pockets or are carelessly thrown away at the end of the meal.
The world isn't suffering a spoon, fork, or mug shortage, but the costs are not inconsequential. In one year the bill for replacing supplies for the residential dining halls alone totaled $85,575. Think of the food this money could have bought. That total is equal to 2,593 racks of lamb at Lahiere's. Even adding in dessert and tip, you could still eat in style every night through an average Ph.D. program on such an allowance.
Dining Services tries to do a lot of things for Princeton students, from operating Frist at all hours during exams, to the home cooking recipe contest, to catering study breaks and Fair Trade coffee in the dining halls. Furthermore, Dining Services is working with students to upgrade their dining experience. One proposed project is to buy local produce, which would minimize the time our fruits and vegetables spend in transit and storage, significantly improving their taste. Another proposal is for cooking classes with professional chefs so that those graduating soon can live off of something other than Spaghetti-O's, peanut butter, and instant oatmeal when first faced with their own kitchen. But improvements are difficult to make when careless waste takes nearly 100 grand from the budget every year.
It's easy to misplace dining items. A careful perusal of my silverware drawer revealed another spoon, a knife from my eating club, and one of the thousands of missing forks. All of these little items add up to a serious stumbling block as Dining Services tries to answer student demand for real changes in the dining halls. $85,000 worth of thoughtless acts should not occur and the attrition numbers for dining supplies should not be ten times the total student population. Don't worry, I'm returning my cache of ill-gotten eating utensils. Maybe you should too.
Helen Labun '02 is a former member of the Princeton Environmental Oversight Committee.
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