To a large extent, Princeton runs on email listservs. And sometimes, they can get a bit quirky.
Princeton FreeFood is an email listserv operated by USG to provide students around campus with real time updates on where free food, typically leftover from student or University events, is located. At 4,574 members, it is the sixth largest listserv operated on the University network. The free food listserv is a critical resource for students not on a meal plan, and an occasional delight for many others.
FreeFood is open to anyone with a University email address. Occasionally, the free food is the entertainment it provides.
On Aug. 25, 2022, Michael Kim ’23, a senior in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department (EEB) from Andover, Mass., made his first appearance on the FreeFood listserv. He was about to become an integral part of the FreeFood community. “Hi guy s I would like to be add to the free (no $$$) food list servev [sic],” Kim wrote. Since then, Kim has written to the listserv 63 times. Kim has become a fixture through his curious prose, mischievous photo attachments, and occasional defenses of the listserv’s integrity. He spoke with The Daily Princetonian on his thoughts on conditionally free food and trolling.
The free food listserv became an issue of campus concern recently after an officer of the dance group Más Flow, used the group to offer free Junbi boba. But it turned out there were strings attached. The Junbi was only free if readers bought a ticket to the upcoming Más Flow show. Five hours later, Kim responded, asking posters not to post food that was not truly free. “My heart is broken and my appetite is in shamblès,” Kim wrote with possibly ironic despair. In a follow-up, Kim articulated his full philosophy of free food. “I must protest that something conditionally free is not the same as being actually free,” he wrote. “If we were to accept conditionally free as being actually free, then all food would be free, on the condition that one steals the food instead of paying for it,” he continued.
Other members of the free food listserv disagreed. Diego Solorio ’24, who in his emails referred to himself as Dicky Duck, claimed to be the Artistic Director of the performance group Little Rascals. There is no evidence that there is any performance group on campus by that name. He claimed in an email to the listserv that food available with the purchase of tickets available on Passport to the Arts should be eligible to be promoted on the free food listserv. Passport to the Arts allows eligible undergraduate students to see two student performances for free per year.
The issue was not an isolated incident. The free food listserv has been sporadically used for student groups to advertise their events (or in one case, app), usually with, in Kim’s terms, conditionally free food attached.
Kim’s simple plea caught the ear of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) President. Two weeks later, USG President Stephen Daniels ’24 clarified the listserv’s rules in an email. Daniels re-emphasized that spam was not allowed and that all food posted had to be actually, with “no strings attached to getting the food,” according to the email.
Solorio, along with another student who refers to himself by Rickey Rat, also claiming to be affiliated with the dubious Little Rascals group, wrote to the ‘Prince,’ “While we understand the need for clear guidelines and expectations for the FreeFood listserv, we believe that the USG should have made this decision more transparently and with input from FreeFood listserv members.”
Daniels said that the change in the guidelines “were a response to a significant amount of student feedback.”
Kim was ready with a rejoinder, noting that Daniels’s announcement did not advertise any free food. Kim also speculated that by creating rules in the first place, Daniels was making all food conditionally free.
Of course, when it comes to sending emails that do not include actually free food, Kim is a prime offender. When crafting his emails, Kim notes that they are “more of a spontaneous bit of fun,” though it is “definitely become more than a one-off thing.”
He adds that there is “no broader mission” to his emails, but that he hopes his “emails bring some enjoyment to a campus culture that can sometimes be oppressively academically rigorous.”
Some posts mimic the style of typical posts in the listserv, such as one where Kim posts a single grain of rice for the taking in “woodrow wilson no wait hobson dining hall,” a reference to the former name of the former First College’s namesake and the future presence of Hobson College’s dining hall in the same location.
Other posts deviate from the FreeFood format, such as a post where Kim wishes the listserv a Happy New Year and encourages FreeFood recipients to create “SMART Goals,” with “SMART” standing for “specific, measurable, achievable, ranch dressing, and time-based.” Kim’s prose often dips into the partially coherent, and the use of strange fonts and bold colors — reminiscent of a website from the ’90s — is an integral part of every Kim free food post.
Some other members of the free food listserv praised Kim’s contributions. Solorio and Rat wrote in an email to the ‘Prince’ that they “appreciate” Kim’s silly posts and affirm that “his emails provide a much-needed light hearted and entertaining atmosphere for our hard working and often sleep deprived students and faculty.”
However, Kim is not without his detractors. Throughout many of his email chains, there are several students who have spoken out against his spam, including graduate student Zachary Dulberg who asked Kim to “kindly stfu” in November 2022 and Trang Ngo ’25 who wrote “stop, merry christmas!” in a December 2022 email, both in response to initial emails sent by Kim.
In response to criticism of his posts, Kim said, “You’re not you when you’re hangry.” Kim went on to apologize, saying, “for any nuisance my emails cause, and I acknowledge that the people who don’t enjoy my emails as much have been for the most part very patient with me.”
Vitus Larrieu is a features contributor and an assistant Podcast editor for the ‘Prince.’
Please send any corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.