By Vivian Lam
Dear ‘Llaga (I can call you that, right?),
I can’t quit you.
Ours is a love that few can understand. It’s a love that cannot be measured by daylights, sunsets, Late Nights or cups of coffee from your new flavored caffeine powder machines. But it could be measured in the decibels of laughter resounding in your naturally lit and air conditioned spaces at peak lunch hour. Or the strife displayed on your eight TVs and projector screen tuned into the latest scandal on CNN, the FIFA World Cup (or some variation thereof) and the Food Network.
You’ve spoiled me to the core. Ever since I discovered that you provided the optimum work environment (ambient noise, conveniently placed outlets, unlimited food and water, standing desk-tables, calming bathrooms, a good view of Crothers and the outside world), I’ve spent more time with you than I have in my room sleeping in a given week. I once spent over thirteen hours with you, just being productive while admiring your neutral colors. That’s how irresistible you are.
I confess that I’ve been unfaithful from time to time, lured away by the siren song of avocado toast at Wilbur brunch. But please believe me when I say that I feel an aching emptiness as I stuff my face with, like, the equivalent of five avocados and a frozen blueberry bush. It tastes sooooo good, but it never tastes like home.
Let’s be honest, though — there’s a lot of people who don’t like you. I know you know this well. When I tell them about our love, they usually look at me with a mixture of incredulity and disgust. And when I tell them the food really isn’t that bad, they slowly back away from me with Ike’s sandwiches and Coupa kale salads clutched close to their chests.
There have been a lot of accusations that you’re ripping us off. It’s a topic that seems to resurge at least once or twice a decade, the earliest I’ve seen thus far being a headline in The Stanford Review archives in 2002, entitled “Dining Services Overcharges Students” (perhaps one of their least controversial articles yet). There’s another really flattering post on the Unofficial Stanford Blog entitled “Disgust. It’s What’s for Dinner” in 2011. And then there’s a Daily article published in 2017, “Is Stanford ripping us off? The Stanford meal plan.” Most have argued that it would be better to give students the option of buying or cooking their own meals, which would arguably be cheaper and of higher quality. And I agree that it’s generally good to have the option of opting out.
But in terms of economics, I would argue that Stanford dining is the best way to maximize your dollars. Yes, a 19 meal/week plan costs $5,889, which amounts to $8.33 per meal. But as someone who needs at least five CoHo salads to be satiated, there’s nowhere else in Palo Alto where I’m going to find “All You Care to Eat” readymade, high quality, nutritious, and, yes, pretty delicious food options. It’s not like you’re serving gruel and moldy bread. And for a student body that constantly talks about how no one has time to sleep or otherwise take care of themselves, I’d be surprised that anyone would have time to buy groceries and cook anything beyond sandwiches and instant noodles for themselves every day. Co-ops be damned.
And, let’s be real, nowhere else will you be able to “take to-go” a pound or two of organic apples or enough drumsticks and eggs to fill a chicken coop (not encouraging, just making an observation).
There’s also a fair number of people who said they’d rather skip a meal than eat with you, usually due to a combination of being “tired of dining hall food” and your food in particular being generally unpalatable. But every person I’ve brought to eat here for the first time has remarked on just how shoddy their own college dining experience was in comparison. If anyone has ever eaten leftovers in a household without gourmet chefs and a rotating menu, I don’t know how they can ever get tired of the diversity of food options you have to offer. And from the amount of boasting you do about how organic, locally grown, fair trade, humane, and generally saintly your food is, it sometimes feels like I’m eating at a less aggressive Whole Foods. You’re either too healthy and plain, or too greasy and oily, but that just sounds like you have a lot of options.
It’s true that you don’t really make “authentic ethnic cuisine” — but that’s more of a testament to the fact that there’s no place like home. You certainly do a better job than Panda Express. And you don’t make being vegetarian hard at all; my parents, staunch carnivores, are always surprised that I, a vegetarian, am not subsisting on the salad bar. You do have your off days — but you always offer pretty decent sandwich ingredients.
And lastly, there’s the problem of the hours. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to be able to rush in for a filling lunch at 4:00 p.m. or come in for dinner at 8:58 p.m. knowing I won’t be left starving or resigning myself to stadium food at TAP. Some have argued that having only one location have extended hours breaks apart rather than builds communities. But it has been through meals at Arrillaga that I’ve met and stayed connected to some of my closest friends — people who live in different parts of campus, people who I met in one class and would otherwise have never seen again. If you’d let us, a friend of mine would love to hold her wedding here (a partial joke, but if it was an option…). And this has nothing on the kind staff you’ll meet and look out for.
As ridiculous as it sounds, you are by far the jewel of this campus, and I can’t quit you. Thank you for feeding my body, mind and soul. Thank you for helping me find my best friend, and saving me from hermitude. Thank you for your incredible staff, present and past: Jerry, Sylvia, John, Jonathan, Sean, Laura, Daniel, DJ, Michael, Brian, “Martha Stewart,” Carole, Rachelle, Stephanie and so many others for sharing your lives and your patience.
You will always be my winding wheel, Arrillaga Family Dining Commons. Stanford is already asking me to donate before I’ve managed to secure a job, but for you… I might check my pockets again.
‘Till my friend’s Arrillaga-catered wedding reception — I will miss you so much.
“There could be more blueberries, though”
Share your best dining hall stories with Vivian Lam at vivlam25 ‘at’ stanford.edu.