Whitman as Other: Prentiss dining options cater to picky eaters

Rensi Ke

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I got stuck when I filled out the Basic Information for Friendship Family Picnic. Whitman’s Friendship Family Program enables every international student to bond with a local family: the picnic serves as the first meeting for the students and their friendship families. “Are there foods you do not eat?” I racked my brain to remember anything gross that I had eaten at home  or  at Shantou University (STU), but I failed.

Growing up in a culture which greatly respects the  fruits of the proletarian farmers’ labors, and  encourages the expansion of  one’s  horizon  by eating  something of everything, I  proudly left a blank answer to the question, and I wondered: What makes people picky about food?

In the context of this place, the answer is: Whitman. Under the banner of  its  Statement of Nondiscrimination, Whitman protects all kinds of picky diners. Since I came to Whitman  this  semester, I have had  friends who are vegetarians, who don’t eat pork  because of religious reasons, who don’t eat beef because of cultural reasons and who don’t eat bananas or oranges simply because they don’t want to.

While eating in Prentiss, I imagined how my parents would scold me if I  were a vegetarian or if I boycotted bananas, when suddenly I grabbed  a spoon of never-before-seen yellow mustard with innocent curiosity: and then I rushed across Prentiss dining hall and rinsed my mouth immediately.

Well, that happens, I said to myself. I spread some sour cream  on my bread, thinking that it might tastes like yogurt: not at all! After my first meal in Prentiss, I  became a picky diner too: it seems that the more choices you have, the  more likely you are to be picky.

Compared with Shantou University, Whitman does  offer more  food choices for students. Taking a Saturday lunch for example, Prentiss offers approximately 120  kinds of foods including six bread choices, 13 cereal choices, two milk choices, six entrée choices, five brunch choices,  21 salad choices, two  soup of the day choices,  11 dressing and cream choices, two ice-cream/sorbet choices,  three  fruit choices, six desert choices, four juice choices,  four soda choices, 11 tea choices and  22 sauces. Besides all that, there are  omelets and self-made waffles.

Like Whitman, STU has three dining halls in total, Dining Halls No. 2-4, respectively operated by three food producers. Considering that STU students come from 15 provinces and  the Macao  Special Administrative Region, all the dining halls set up specific sections to satisfy  various eating habbits.

Sichuan windows (Sichuan cuisine is  famous for  spicy foods) and Chaoshan  windows (local cuisine) are popular among students from these areas.  For students from  the other  areas, set-meal  windows, optional meal windows, noodle windows, spiced-food windows,  dry-food windows, stir-fry windows and  soup windows are offered to satisfy their food preferences at various prices. Every day, STU students have access to approximately 72 dishes in a dining hall, eight dishes per window on average.

While Whitman students usually  pay about $8  for  a meal in the dining hall based on the “all you can eat” policy, an STU student usually spend 2-10 RMB (30 cents to $1.5) on a meal. Many STU students like the 2.5 RMB set meal since the meal consists of two meat dishes, a vegetable dish  and unlimited amount of rice. Students coming from local areas often add soup at the price of 2-2.5 RMB because having soup before dinner is believed to be conducive to digestion and  losing weight. The idea is that having a little bowl of soup will make  you feel full and hence  result in the loss of appetite.

What I appreciate  most about Whitman’s dining halls is the friendly relationship between students and dining hall staffers; what I hate the most is  the few business hours, since STU’s  dining halls open 15  hours a day, from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 p. m. to 12 p.m.

However, I would not blame Prentiss for not giving students a wide range of meal time choices  because  my  favorite part of the dining halls is probably the result of the limited amount of working hours.  Accordingly, while STU’s “whenever you can eat” policy benefits students in terms of the crazy amount of freedom of choices, it has also driven us nuts when a sleepy  dining  hall cook accidentally leaves a piece of rug in the spiced soup.

STU’s BBS (Bulletin Board System, Internet forum)  has never run out of complaint  posts about the dining hall services, which even led to a two-day boycott against one of the dining halls last semester.

What would be my hope for Whitman’s dining halls? Smaller napkins and fewer food wasters. Although I am happy that we still have five big boxes of apple juice left after making the IHC Sunday brunch this morning, I believe that a better food budget and distribution will not only result  in a greener campus but also, probably, a lower tuition.

Rensi is a senior English major. She is this year’s Whitman Sherwood Exchange Student from Shantou University in China.

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