On February 2, a subtle change took place in the Dining Center: salt and pepper shakers were removed from the tables and consolidated at the condiment station located near the entrance.
Napkin notes, feedback from students written on napkins and tacked to a bulletin board, soon appeared, asking where the shakers had gone.
“We were getting inundated with napkin notes from unhappy students asking why they have been removed from the tables,” said Anthony Condo, Associate Director of Dining Services.
Condo posted a letter soon after explaining that the change was in response to being contacted by the EarthQuakers (EQ), a student environmental group behind many recent initiatives to “green” student life.
But members of the group say the attention is undeserved.
“It’s tricky because the EarthQuakers were actually not very involved in the salt shaker issue in spite of angry napkin notes believing otherwise,” said Tina Zhuo, a member of the group.
EQ member Harris Rothman explained that the group’s original intent was for the Dining Center to switch to using refillable salt and pepper shakers. But due to labor costs, sanitation issues, and the risk of students taking the refillable shakers from the DC, such a solution was not possible.
“There’s been a lot of blowback for some reason – I think that when they put up those signs, people misread them and said that ‘Oh, the EarthQuakers are taking away our salt and pepper shakers,’” said Rothman. “And because of the whole paper towels issue, I think people are very comfortable with that narrative.”
Rothman was referring to a Plenary resolution, backed by EQ, passed in Fall 2012 to eliminate paper towel dispensers from dorm bathrooms.
“It really wasn’t our policy,” Rothman said. “It was something related to what we asked about, and didn’t get.”
Although moving the salt shakers is a minor change, some students feel it reflects a lack of respect for community input.
“I think the reason I and others feel angry about this is that the EarthQuakers aren’t going through the proper avenues for this,” said senior Bobby Brooks. “They’re EarthQUAKERS, and yet they’re disregarding the community and Quaker values of consensus by bypassing community input and speaking directly with those in charge to effect the will of the EarthQuakers, not the will of the community.”
Others support the EarthQuakers’ cause.
“I applaud EarthQuakers for taking some initiative on this. It seems like some people are outraged, but to be honest, that seems pretty ridiculous to me,” said Charlotte Lellman. “The minor inconvenience of the new salt system is a miniscule sacrifice for all salt-consumers, but it doesn’t represent some kind of tyrannical authority by the EarthQuakers. I appreciate the EarthQuakers for taking steps to make the DC less wasteful.”
Dining Services hopes that moving the salt and pepper shakers from the tabletops will cause students to use them less, resulting in less waste — a solution which Harris feels “doesn’t really solve the issue.”
“Maybe they could resolve these issues, and maybe up the quality – because, you know, if you buy in bulk, it’s cheaper – by getting a large pepper grinder, or some boxy thing that someone wouldn’t necessarily carry out of the DC with them,” Rothman said. “I feel that would resolve some of the health and cost concerns – I don’t know if that is something that is going to happen.”
Although many of the salt and pepper shakers have been migrating back to the table tops, Condo confirmed through email that the change is likely to stay.