CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Inside the dining halls at Harvard University, the students are prepping in apocalyptic fashion.
Backpacks are stuffed with apples and plates are stacked with brownies. Smuggled-in Tupperware bowls, slyly hidden beneath the table, are being filled with hot food from the cafeteria buffet. Mini fridges are overflowing. Freshmen have ordered Cup Noodles on Amazon — in bulk.
The student newspaper even wrote a survival guide.
This doomsday prepping, which has been going on for days across campus, is all in response to an impending strike, set to begin Wednesday, by the university’s dining services workers. The employee union, which represents 750 food service workers, announced its intention to walk out in early September, reported the Harvard Crimson, after months of stalemate contract negotiations with administrators over wages and health-care costs. In particular, the union is seeking year-round work for the dining services employees, and the two sides are negotiating over health-care options, with the union trying to avoid employees having to pay any additional out-of-pocket expenses for health insurance, the Crimson reported.
Never in Harvard’s history have dining services workers held a strike during the academic year. Their contract containing the no-strike clause expired Sept. 17, and thus far, they’ve garnered the support of students from the university’s medical, dental and law schools, as well as the Harvard Undergraduate Council.
But with a negotiation deadline of Tuesday at midnight — and midterm exams looming — some students expressed annoyance with the inability to reach an agreement.
“I understand it’s for legitimate purposes, but I’m worrying about midterms right now,” freshman Sofia Garcia told The Washington Post. “I don’t need to worry about where my food is coming from.”
Students received an email from Katherine G. O’Dair, Harvard College’s dean of students, informing them that “in the event that information needs to be shared regarding changes to your dining service, the College will immediately communicate those details with you through email.”
And dining services workers told the student newspaper that the university appears to be stockpiling frozen food provisions.
“Harvard does order some frozen foods on occasion, but nothing like this,” Laquiesha N. Rainey, a food services worker and union organizer told the Crimson. “Things like stuffed peppers, mac and cheese, and soups are taking up so much space in the freezers that a lot of halls don’t have the space to hold the current menu items we need.”
Goodbye salmon with ginger sauce and rosemary lemon garlic roasted chicken. Goodbye fresh baked goods and Sunday brunch. Goodbye ice cream. Goodbye, some students say, appetite.
“In high school, I lived off of TV dinners. I can do it in college,” freshman Tauheed Islam told The Post.
“Worst case scenario, cannibalism,” he said in jest. “That’s the worst that can happen.”
If Tuesday’s midnight deadline passes and the workers do indeed not show up for work Wednesday, it’s unclear whether students will be refunded for the daily cost of their unused meals, which, according to the Crimson, is $36.
“It’s a bit of a departure from the usual accommodations here,” freshman Claire Burch told The Post. She’d spent several minutes in the dining hall Tuesday night cramming apples into her overstuffed backpack.
“Some upperclassmen asked me what I was doing, and I said ‘You might not be worried about the strike, but we just left home.’ It’s a little reminiscent of going to the store, but there’s a lot more smuggling involved,” Burch said. “I’ll be back again tomorrow morning when they have a bigger selection of fruit.”
In the student newspaper’s strike survival guide, which called the potential ordeal a food services “apocalypse,” foraging students were instructed to begin stocking provisions immediately.
To properly stock up, enter the dhall on Monday with a savage mindset, and proceed with your overt theft like nobody’s watching. With Tupperware poised, confidently ladle oatmeal, chili, and chowder. Fill designated containers to the brim with cookies and your cereal of choice. You’ll also want to load up on condiments to spice up those Nutrigrain bars that have been under your bed since move-in. An entire bottle of chocolate syrup and can of whipped cream should do the trick. Finish off by stuffing your backpack with 30 apples. Just squirrel those babies away, you could be in this for the long haul!
And, as a last resort, the survival guide suggested this:
Forget drinking your own pee, lick John Harvard’s foot for sustenance. This could be a problematic strategy once it get’s cold, but it would certainly make a statement to [Harvard University President Drew] Faust. Stay hungry, kids.
Jordan Virtue, who reported from Cambridge, is a freelance writer and student at Harvard.