Tulane University is seeped in privilege and inequality. The original economic foundation of the school provided by Paul Tulane served to provide for only white and male students. Although the school has made progressive steps forward regarding racial and economic inclusivity, such as increased opportunities for in-state scholarship with the Louisiana Promise and student outlets at the Student Organization Center, these steps must exceed the student body. Each day the common rooms, bathrooms, and campus services are cleaned. Meals in both the LBC and The Commons are prepared, cooked, and served to students. Many students glide through their lives at Tulane pre-occupied with assignments, social plans, or whatever else may take precedence in life; the meals on the go and clean rooms go unnoticed, becoming side factors and additions to our lives that we assume will be provided for us.
The EVS workers at Tulane University not only often lack recognition, but the school’s rules regarding their meals and excess food are unfair and fail to serve the larger Tulane and New Orleans community, even though there is an opportunity to do so. The LBC staff are unable to eat their meals between shifts from the LBC or in the LBC. This means they spend the entirety of their day cooking for Tulane students without permission to eat the food they make. Instead, workers at the LBC may only eat in the commons. These workers cannot eat in their place of work because the school estimates that the price of each meal per person will be too expensive. While LBC workers must eat in the commons, EVS workers cannot eat in the commons and instead can only eat in the LBC. However, they cannot eat inside the LBC unless they wait in line and purchase the food at full price, rather than eating leftovers that they cook. The staff at the commons is also limited to only a finite selection of the food. While students are permitted to pick and choose as they please, the workers at the commons are limited to only certain sections. Furthermore, the school permits workers from leaving these complexes with Tulane food. Leslie Adams, who works at Zatarians meal swipe in the LBC, says how she has worked at Tulane University since the 1990s and has yet to see a worker walk out with the food they make or serve in the LBC.
Because of these rules, the majority of EVS workers pack a lunch. They use the food from their own homes, which sits out throughout the day as they work. Many must pack their own food despite the fact that there are leftovers from both the LBC and the commons that are thrown out. Workers that pack lunch are also not permitted to eat it in the commons. However, Tulane University does not provide a lunchroom for breaks. Workers cannot eat the food they serve, the leftovers, or eat in an indoor space made for them. They are not permitted to eat the food they make, however, they cannot eat outside food inside the Tulane facilities. Instead, workers are forced to eat outside, perhaps on a bench or on the street.
If there were not such an abundance of food, the current situation may not present such skepticism as it does. However, the LBC produces copious amounts of leftovers that are thrown directly into the garbage, even leftovers that would not have gone bad. For example, Pickles, the sandwich shop in the LBC, was initially designed for students to order a specific, weighted amount of meat in ounces at the counter, rather than a pre-made sandwich. This means that Tulane orders mass amounts of cold cuts that they order for students to purchase in large amounts at Pickles. However, this idea is not communicated to students. It is also inaccessible, students are more likely to purchase a sandwich rather than large amounts of meat, meaning there are also large amounts of wasted food. From the to-go stations of the LBC, packaged wraps, celery and carrot cups, Rice Krispies, brownies, and cookies, all still edible, are thrown into the garbage at the end of the week. There is food being thrown out that if students do not buy, is automatically deemed waste. Adams encourages students to use their meal swipes and take large amounts of food as the week comes to a close, because if students do not eat the food, it is not given to workers, it is discarded. Yet Newcomb Nursery, next to campus, takes care of children, some of whose parents work for Tulane. The leftover Rice Krispies or carrots could serve as snacks for these children, saving their parents time and money (parents who work for Tulane), and avoid wasting food. Packaged wraps that are thrown out are not past their “best by” date, and could instead be recycled in the commons. There are dutiful women, often of minority groups, that clean each room so well, that students rarely consider what the rooms may look like without these women. Men and women work each day cooking meals for students and serving the Tulane community, without the opportunity to even grab a sandwich or an apple and have a seat inside the LBC to eat it. The food they are unable to access is instead thrown away. This subtle regulation and action is loud and screams of an unspoken inequality within the university.
This is the oxymoron of Tulane Dining. Overlooked cleaners, dining staff, and cooks serve the student body so that their services become simple extensions to the rest of our lives. However, for the workers that so dutifully serve Tulane, this is not the case. These rules create a system in which groups of primarily minority workers at a predominately white institution, aid the student body restlessly and loyally without reaping any benefits of their own hard work and dedication. It places these workers at a fundamental disadvantage, lowers their status as members of the Tulane community, and on a basic level, these regulations waste edible food when there are countless opportunities to help those that serve Tulane and the surrounding community. This food can be provided to the very staff that fuels Tulane but is instead placed in the garbage.
This begs the question, how does the school then regard the workers as people themselves? If Tulane claims to care for its staff, strive for equality, and help its community, then it must do so by changing the way they handle leftover food and their relationship to their own EVS workers. Actions speak louder than words, and in this case, to claim itself as a progressive institution, these actions must change.
Cover photo: Elizabeth Hardwick (The Crescent Graphic Design Team)