Opinion: Why I Felt Guilty Eating Baked Bread with Pesto Sun-Dried Tomato Butter
By Carter Hanson, Guest Columnist
Faroe Island salmon, creamy dijon sauce, long grain and wild rice blend, and San Francisco blend veggies. That was lunch one day during my first week at Gettysburg College and it was, frankly, incredible. Cooked, spiced, and mixed to perfection, the menu at Servo is always changing and always delicious. It’s almost farcical, how incredible and unique the culinary experience is at Gettysburg. I seriously can’t understand how people can possibly complain about the food at Servo, it’s definitely not normal for a college.
From the moment I entered that somewhat austere valley in line to get my card zapped, I felt odd. And it wasn’t just Servo that gave me that feeling, it was everything about the college: the ivory-white columns that warded my residence hall, their domineering opacity and indelibility; the air conditioned dorm room I stretched myself out across luxuriously, the oldfangled pewter-green desk chair clashing violently with the mini fridge-freezer-microwave combo appliance that rested below my window, opening out to a veritable Civil War Era-cannon.
I would console myself, assuring me that it was normal and not at all absurd that there was a Mediterranean salad bar at my college’s food service. But it didn’t help. When I tried to reason it out with myself over a nice, delectable, hot meal at Servo, the feeling only got worse. It was a kind of slow-burning guilt, really, though not the kind that could be attributed to any specific fault of the college or the college community. It wasn’t just the out-of-placeness that naturally derives from relocating oneself across the country, though I’m sure that was a factor initially. And when I deserted my bowl of lobster ravioli, garnished with fresh parmesan cheese and oregano, trudged past the glassy, classy brand new student center decked in vibrant orange and blue and still ringing with that ‘new’ smell, and threw my computer bag beside the rolly office chair I claimed for the hour-long Astronomy 101 course in an actual planetarium, I felt like I had made a mistake.
I listened to a podcast about a year and a half ago called Revisionist History with Malcolm Gladwell. Out of the thirty-odd episodes I listened to by Gladwell, one stuck with me far more than any of the rest. I listened to it at the time in my life when I was in the most intense part of my college search and application process, and it changed the way I approached the entire ordeal.
In that episode, entitled Food Fight, Bowdoin College was compared to Vassar College, their food options and financial aid programs being improbably and inexorably tied together as a picture of the private liberal arts college was composed.
The liberal arts college is one of the great strengths of the American higher education system: it is the holy grail for scholars and academics across the nation, a place where they hope to find like-minded students and gain the opportunity to begin establishing their careers and lives. This is what drew me to Gettysburg: that there are people here who love to talk about politics and writing and history as much as I do.
But what Gladwell made me realize was that your college experience is also based on the broad range of perspectives and opinions that you’re exposed to during your four years. And that is inextricably related to the socio-economic background of the students you interact with. The critical determiner of this is the financial aid offered by the college, the cost of tuition, and the mix of people the college accepts into each subsequent class.
Gettysburg College is not cheap. It can cost upwards of $69,850 per year (including housing and that delicious Servo food)—that’s more than twice $31,786, the median income per capita in the United States today. Though the college offers some merit and need-based aid, the cost of attending Gettysburg is inhibiting for the vast majority of Americans.
The problem is that much of this money is being put back towards attracting the richest students, whose families can afford to pay full tuition. The college needs these students because they are, essentially, their bottom line; those students who pay full tuition are what keeps the college running financially. However, these East Coast wealthy demand from the college a certain quality of life that they are used to back home in exchange for their attendance: succulent salmon, massive dorm rooms, and international food festivals.
But every dollar that the college spends on stuff that doesn’t really affect students’ scholastic experience is a dollar not spent on a scholarship for a kid who wouldn’t be able to afford Gettysburg otherwise. That was the guilt I felt eating my freshly baked bread with pesto sun dried tomato butter: that I was, by going to Gettysburg, endorsing the mindset that the un-necessities of student life mattered more than the range of perspectives students are exposed to inside and out of the classroom.
By refocusing the flow of money from Servo, air conditioning, and the brand new CUB to financial aid and lowering the cost of tuition, I believe that Gettysburg College will be able to recapture what makes the liberal college experience so unique and incredible: as Gladwell put it, “…the best education comes when you mix students from all backgrounds. When the child of an investment banker sits in class next to the child of a janitor, the two of them have a learning experience that they could not have amongst people just like themselves.”