There’s no denying that everyone is working overtime at a school like Penn. Between classes, sports, jobs, friends and clubs we hardly have time to think, let alone sleep, eat or breathe. There never seems to be enough time in a day, and we constantly push our own limitations. In such a competitive environment, we choose to forgo anything that isn’t necessary for our success.
One practice is commonly swept under the rug of success: the sit-down meal. Now, I’m not an advocate for the over–priced, generic dining hall food, but at least the mandatory freshman meal plan forces the new, overly ambitious class to dedicate a portion of their day to sitting and eating together. Whether it’s Hill brunch or Commons dinner, freshman students can be sure to share an hour with a familiar face. The cafeterias provide a time for personal development by making social contact mandatory—no matter how chaotic the day is.
This sense of communal dining significantly fades after freshman year. Many Penn students scarf down Wawa wraps during long lectures, nibble on Frontera while studying alone for their next exam, or skip meals entirely to accommodate their busy schedules. Cooking is time-consuming, and the dining hall food is no Chipotle.
Our tendency to eat on the go isn’t natural. In many of the most cultured and intellectually developed countries (think Italy, Japan, and France) mealtimes are the foundation of society and relationships. Food is celebrated for its ability to bring people together and provide intimacy in everyday life. By contrast, our society regards extended meals as a superfluous, unproductive luxury. Instead, we applaud endless activity, overextending ourselves to the point of jeopardizing our mental and physical health.
Multiple studies prove the importance of families dining together, citing advantages like academic improvement, emotional support and healthier lifestyle choices. Downgrading mealtimes to a busy schedule can even generate eating abnormalities. In an age where human contact is already lessened by technology, we would benefit from standard meal times. You should be having dinner with a friend, and not your phone.
We all like to BYO, but we need to rethink the importance of mealtime on campus. Penn and its students would benefit from a social environment centered around sharing one of the most basic necessities of humanity: food. Eating should not be a necessary burden, but a time around which to form strong relationships and healthy habits. Perhaps this can be done through changing the stigma of dining halls, or renovating Houston and other on-campus restaurants to promote prolonged, social meals. Regardless, students at Penn need a break from our jam packed schedules, and a structured, enjoyable meal time setting would provide for just that. Let’s save our indulgent Wawa trips for finals.