Limited Dining Hours Serve a Purpose

Photo by Veronica Brown '16 | Smith dining halls serve dinner from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m.

Photo by Veronica Brown ’16 | Smith dining halls serve dinner from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m.

Dominica Cao ’19
Contributing Writer

With a new wave of Smithies receiving their acceptance letters, many incoming students worry about adjusting to a dining hall that closes by 7 p.m. – if not earlier. Believe me, I’ve done my fair share of complaining about how unnaturally early dinner is here. And I don’t stand alone on this view; many college students come from families that eat dinner at a later time. So why does Smith continue to have such early dinner times?

Compare the other colleges in our consortium; Hampshire dinner hours are from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., Mount Holyoke hours are from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Amherst College offers dinner from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. With the exception of UMass, all of the other colleges support early dinner schedules. I have yet to see a Five College uproar on this supposedly appalling phenomenon, but imagining it can be fun: groups of Smithies tomato-bombing Cushing-Emerson, only to remember that they live there, and over the days, the accumulated aroma of rotten tomatoes….

My first assumption for the early dining hours is that there must be some historical explanation. And unsurprisingly, there is. I’m no expert on the matter, but my two cents is that before electricity existed, families ate dinner before sundown – why would you break bread in the dark? Additionally, supper was included in everybody’s daily routine. But this is archaic and doesn’t help explain why college students should still subscribe to earlier meals.

The next assumption was that dining early is a health benefit. It only took one Google search to see endless wellness and health articles screaming in bold, italicized headlines that “All Studies Show That Early Dinners Help You Lose Weight.” While that advice isn’t necessarily Smith’s reason for the dining hours, the articles all make valid points. The general idea is that an earlier dinner is key to a healthy lifestyle. It curbs overeating, helps with all-around digestion and even goes so far as to combat obesity. Most people aren’t as active in the evening, and so most of their later intake isn’t burned off as effectively as in the morning.

This health explanation is fitting to Smith, where our well-being is a top priority. Take, for example, the continued lack of extended library hours, as working late into dawn isn’t generally considered a healthy thing to do and we all need sleep. While some students may argue that they resort to excessive snacking at night with a high workload, take this into consideration. Smith tries not to encourage its students in the “college experience” of all-nighters, 24/7 stress or gaining the “freshman 15.” It would be appropriate of Smith to believe that students are beyond “stress-eating” and are capable of making healthy choices. So if we can reason that opening dinner hours at 5:30 has good health benefits, why not extend those hours for students who have different schedules?

Get this: even though many students claim to prefer eating later in the night, the busiest time of service is always within the first hour that our dining halls open; after 6:30, the rate diminishes into a something of a trickle. Even I – as someone who comes from a family that only eats after my parents come home from work at 8 p.m. – am among the first to line up for the evening meal. The reasoning behind this? Fresh, lip-smacking quality.

At Smith, I take for granted the many dining halls available to me and the large variety of options, all within walking distance. The new menus this semester have had splendid results. But because we don’t have a centralized hall to commute to, the number of hungry diners is dispersed throughout campus. With this in mind, it would be fruitless to continue pumping out new trays of items up until the last plate is picked up from the rack. Limiting the time frame significantly reduces the amount of compost and waste. When all effort is concentrated into the opening hour, students know that it’s the primetime for quality food. And we will gladly pick quality over our previous eating schedules.

Smith continues to keep dining hours within a specific time frame to ensure the best for its students. Limited dining hours provides not only a healthier eating schedule and better food quality but also supports our mission towards sustainability. It’s a lot to chew on. Perhaps my previous yearning for a later dinner was not just detrimental to me but was also insignificant when people are finding ways to be more environmentally friendly. I’ll hold my tongue from now on.

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