In light of the fact that it is finals week at Harvard (but in two years, it won't be!), I asked my friend Erin, a freshman at Yale, to guest-post about the dining hall system there. As follows, her response:
After coming back from break where I heard horror stories about other colleges mealtime fare, I can say without a doubt that I hit the gastronomic jackpot in attending Yale. Our dining halls are second to none, and the options for places to eat are endless. In addition to the 12 (or rather 11, since one college is always undergoing renovations) residential colleges, which each offer their own atmosphere, there is also Commons, which has the longest hours, and the widest variety of food. For lunch, the choices are even more varied, as students can use their lunch swipe to eat in the Law School, Kline Biology Tower or School of Management.
Before I start on the residential colleges, where I eat almost all of my meals, I’ll give a brief statement about Commons. It is huge, and similar to Annenberg at “the other school.” It is the only place that serves hot breakfast during the week, with daily menus of pancakes, sausage/bacon/ham, eggs, and potatoes. I’m not much of a breakfast eater, but when I do manage to crawl out of bed before 11, it’s a good place to go. All the other residential colleges have a cold breakfast of cereal, bread, bagels, waffles, etc. One thing that is unique to Commons is the Y waffle-maker, which I have yet to try, but have heard good things. Commons also has longer hours than any other dining hall, staying open past 7. It has a pizza bar, a main line, a pasta bar, a salad bar, a sandwich bar, a dessert bar, a cereal bar, and a wide variety of drinks. There has never been a time where I haven’t been able to find something good to eat at commons. Also, Commons is a great place to see people, as it is centrally located to most classroom buildings, and many people eat lunch there.
I however am a much bigger fan of the residential college dining halls. They are much smaller, more intimate, and normally have very good food. Last night for example, at Branford, dinner was southern fried or grilled chicken, some stuffed squash thing that I’m sure vegetarians would have loved, glazed ham, garlic flavored green beans and mashed potatoes with gravy. Yale’s mashed potatoes are some of the best I’ve ever tasted, and I would like to think myself somewhat of a mashed potato aficionado. They are creamy with little bits of potato skins to give them texture, and chicken gravy is great. In addition, my friends also had spinach soup, colorful and delicious salads, various cookies, and ice cream.
Every dining hall has unique specialties that you discover as you sample different ones: Pierson has a soft-serve ice cream machine that sometimes works, Davenport has their precious gnome in the middle of their dining hall, Calhoun, much to the delight of one of my friends, has fresh pineapple, and Berkeley, the famous dining hall that is always PACKED with freshmen because the foods so good, has different tossed salads every day.
Although I’ve been in many of the dining halls, this is most likely only because my own beloved college, Jonathan Edwards, is under construction this year. Many of my other freshmen friends eat most of their meals in their own college. This is because each dining hall acts as a meeting place. By eating in your college, you are guaranteed to see people you know, and also, to meet some new people you may not have seen before. The table set-up creates a great environment for discussion, assuming there aren’t too many people, and you will often see people stop at tables talking to different friends as they walk to their seat. The dining hall workers often become close with the students, and the card swipers memorize new freshman names in their respective college, so they can greet them by name. Being in JE, this has not yet happened to me, but I hold out hope.
In addition, colleges have family meals every week in which only people in the college can use the dining hall, so as to increase the solidarity and camaraderie amongst students. Do not fear if you are sans dining hall, as JE students this year are welcome in any college, although, the food tends to be absolutely amazing on family nights (i.e. sundae bars or high class meats), thus you will be accused of stealing other college’s food.
I cannot think of one meal where I have been able to find nothing to eat. My biggest problem is that I often find one thing I like, only to realize that there’s something else that I want even more, and I end up with too much food on my tray. This is the main hazard of Yale’s all-you-can-eat policy. Many ingredients in our food come from the Yale farm, which I am told is on the edge of campus, and one of their most prolific crops is a green herb which is liberally sprinkled over many foods, including my mashed potatoes, and whose name utterly escapes me at this moment. Every meal has at least one organic entrée, which I suppose is a good thing, but I’ve never noticed a difference in the taste of food. There are always various vegetarian options, and desserts are normally amazing.
Basically, I can’t say enough good things about Yale’s dining options. Everyone comes to have their own favorite dining halls. I personally really like Trumbull for lunches and sometimes dinner, and TD for brunch on the weekends. Also, Silliman, the newest renovated college, has an amazing dining hall that I bring my pre-frosh to, to show off Yale dining. Berkeley’s a good option, but always packed, although this is due to its great food, and perhaps to its animal head décor. You will never feel entirely let down by Yale food, even in Morse & Stiles, which are so far away (relatively speaking) and appear to me to be caves. Regardless, you can’t go wrong at Yale, in eating or anything else imaginable.
Now that the advertisement's over (kidding - thanks, Erin), I'll point out that Yale is a well-publicized leader in the locavore college scene - a trend that Harvard seems to be following up on. (My opinions on that later.)
Especially as a freshman at Harvard, I'm intrigued by upperclass dining (and indeed, I get emailed commentary on it by my classmates), so it's fairly interesting to see a different version of a house system. And of course, eating options, like different (read: copycat) Veritaffles.
Dining-wise, the main difference is really that Harvard offers the same daily menu across all dining halls. Which can be great if you're in the Quad and still want the same herbed orzo offered at Adams...or bad if it's turkey night. And we also all have soft-serve machines.
If you're an inquisitive Yale prefrosh, Erin can be reached for questions (dining or otherwise) through the comment boxes (below) or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Want to complain about your d-hall system? Comment or drop me a line (email@example.com).