Bon Appétit’s new policy presents dilemma

Kyle Seasly

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Illustration by MaryAnne Bowen.

It’s always tough when a situation presents itself as completely unfair. Sometimes one has no words to express the frustrations at a system that intentionally screws people over. That’s how I felt when working at Jewett Dining Hall last Monday night when a co-worker informed me of a change in Bon Appétit  policy.

In the past, food workers, including myself, were able to bring home leftovers after students had left the dining hall. That policy changed as of last week. My co-worker put it bluntly.

“We can’t bring food home anymore, even if they are going to throw it away.”

I was instantly aghast. This seemed particularly mean-spirited on the side of the management. While working in the hot dish room and kitchen was certainly not the most pleasant work, at least we got some good perks –– a free meal –– and got to bring home some leftovers, including cookies!

Instantly my columnist instincts kicked in and I thought I might write a column on how the Bon Appétit worker is oppressed by the evil management company, and how its unfair policies ruin lives. It’s not that I don’t want to write that column, and I wish everything was that simple.

At Whitman College we’re given a wonderful education and taught to question and analyze everything –– sometimes to the point of psychosis. We read Marx and learn about the oppressed nature of the proletariat. We learn that some people are victimized in certain situations and the system screws some people over, of no fault of their own.

My natural instinct, as well, is to “stick it to the man.” It’s that rock-‘n’-roll attitude Jack Black talked about in “School of Rock.” But then I sat down with the head of Bon Appétit –– a very nice and extremely receptive man.

He explained to me that the new policy is for a couple of reasons –– including that because the workers would take home the rest of the food at the end of the night, the chefs would often cook too much –– leading to more waste and increased charges to students.

He also explained that when there are “actual” leftovers, they are going to work with “Meals on Wheels” charity program to make sure it gets put to good use rather than going in the trash.

Bon Appétit is also on the more liberal end of college food services –– some campuses refuse to let their employees eat the food they themselves cook and serve to students.

I agree that these are good reasons for the new policy, but that doesn’t make it frustrating for workers –– including myself. But what really interested me here was my initial reaction. Instead of reaching for answers, I leapt to my own conclusion because it feels good to stand up for the worker, the little guy, the underdog. But sometimes a lack of understanding is what makes messes, not just actions.

I wanted to write that column in my head that slammed Bon Appétit for their new policy of not letting workers bring food home. Indeed, it would have been a much more exciting, albeit adolescent, article. Instead, my plan totally backfired. I can agree with the management on their points, but the policy is still frustrating because it violates the status quo.

It’s tough not to leap to conclusions in an environment in which one can easily perceive oneself (or others) as the victim.  Yet, understanding the whole situation is way more important than feeling emotionally charged up.