The Columbia Spectator, Columbia University’s student newspaper, is reporting that Columbia’s Dining Services is spending $5,000 a week on one delectable treat in particular: Nutella. While student diners are enjoying the hazelnut spread — they’re eating up to 100 pounds a day — in the dining hall, they are also stealing the delicacy.
Vicki Dunn, the executive director of Columbia’s Dining Services, told the Spectator, “Students have been filling cups of Nutella to-go in Ferris Booth Commons and taking the full jars out of John Jay, which means we’re going through product faster than anticipated.” The $5,000 a week would add up to about $250,000 a year if the trend continues. Columbia’s dining hall thievery isn't new, as one student put it, “It’s all you can eat, and all you can hide.”
Students spend good money on meal plans at universities. Columbia’s 2013-14 dining plan could cost upperclassmen up to $2,431 if they choose the most expensive option. Some students take food because they feel that the high prices warrant a little bit of food to go.
This taking of food isn't an issue only at Columbia. A 2010 article in the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s student paper, was titled “Dorm Residents Master The Art of Dining Hall Thievery.” The article portrays food heist as a sport to some of the students.
I graduated from Columbia in 2008. We didn't have Nutella in John Jay or Ferris Booth. I didn't even mind. I loved the dining hall. I went back to Columbia a few months after graduating. A good friend who was still in school approached me. It was our first time seeing one another since I left campus.
Excitedly, he grinned and asked, “How’s life without John Jay, Liam?”
I forced myself to smile and replied in a monotone: “Oh, it’s great, pal. I’m eating really good food, and it’s easy to cook and all the food is very nice.”
He smiled even more: “Gee, I can’t wait ‘til I get to make my own food!”
I looked down at him, reached over, and grabbed him by the face, “Don’t you ever say that,” I tightened my grip, his smile morphed. “Don’t you ever say that. Stay here, stay in John Jay as long as you can,” his cheeks were jiggling, I was holding his face so hard. “Cherish it. For the love of God you have to cherish it.”
True story.* I loved John Jay and Ferris Booth even before the Nutella craze. I wasn't much for taking food other than a piece of fruit or two and a hot chocolate to go. I remember being disgusted when people would fill up their Nalgene bottles with milk or bring large Tupperware containers to load up with cereal. Stealing from dining halls has been around for a while (I saw the same thing when I was a graduate student at Georgetown).
Nutella’s an expensive, addictive treat. Columbia’s Dining Services will have to decide if the $5,000 a week is worth the happiness of the students, or if they’ll tighten up security.
Or perhaps, students will stop taking entire jars of Nutella. Just a thought.
*Not a true story, in fact, it is almost an exact replication of a scene in Billy Madison.