Opinion: Food is never free

Photo courtesy calvin.edu
Photo courtesy calvin.edu

Sometimes people try to shuffle past me, eyes downcast. Sometimes they mutter something in response to my “have a nice day.” Other times they take off running before I can finish an “excuse me.” I’m the gatekeeper. I’m the bad guy. I’m the card swiper at Uppercrust.

 The job is rote. I smile at people who walk in, swipe their ID cards through our machine and stare at the wall where a plaque proclaims “students are permitted to remove from the Dining Room: two cookies, one piece of fruit or one ice cream treat.”

Enforcing that plaque is the worst part of my job. I’ve lost count of the students I’ve watched stick sandwiches in CUPPS mugs or large bags of cereal in their backpacks. I can’t remember how many classmates I’ve asked to put back one of the three pieces of fruit they’re trying to sneak out. And that’s only the people I catch.

Calvin students have sticky fingers. At the end of the year when students move out of the dorms, cardboard boxes collect dozens of plates and cups that have found their way out of the dining halls and into dorm rooms. Students brag about the food they’ve snuck out of Commons and Knollcrest. But I wonder if they realize what they’re doing.

The dining halls, Johnny’s and food courts at Calvin are operated by contract. The dining halls are a separate, for-profit business that provides a service that we pay for. They work closely with Calvin, but common objections like “I pay enough in tuition,” don’t apply because we’re not paying our tuition to the dining halls.

Lindsey Cato, the service manager at Commons, deals with theft constantly. “If we let every student take an extra meal,” she said, “Or even an extra popsicle with them, we would have to almost double our budget, which can’t be done without raising prices for meal plans. Taking that extra popsicle might not seem like a big deal, but it’s plain and simple stealing.”

We’re a Christian school. So I’m frustrated when the people I sit next to in chapel ignore rules, and RAs and spiritual leaders brag about what they’ve sneaked out. On a campus where many people care about holiness, the dining halls seem to be a curious blind spot. Yet “every square inch” certainly extends to Uppercrust. If we’re really here on this earth to be representatives of Christ, then we don’t get a lunch break.

Dining hall workers comment on the striking kindness of Calvin students. What if they noticed, too, a striking honesty? Students may be able to shuffle past me. An extra popsicle may be “no big deal.” But what is a big deal is compromising what you believe for an extra snack. If on my shift I didn’t have to be vigilant, or look suspiciously at each bulging backpack, I think we’d be on to something radical.

This is an opinion piece and does not necessarily represent the views of Calvin Chimes, Calvin College or the Christian Reformed Church. 

About the Author

Kate Parsons

Kate Parsons is an online editor for Spring 2014. She's a Junior studying Writing and International Development.

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