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A Modest Meal Plan Proposal

Guest Column
Mikael C. Rechtsman

A recent New York Times article, “In Sweeping Campus Canvasses, U.S. Checks on Mideast Students,” by Jaques Steinberg [November 12] opens to the public an issue of which we especially, living in a college atmosphere, should all be aware. It is clear that in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attack, MIT has to bear the burden of responsibility for all members of its “community,” especially those obviously suspicious elements: each admitted foreign student, each with an American education visa, must be considered a threat to the security of our nation as soon as he or she steps off the airplane.

The threat of bin Laden agents and Mohammed Attas-to-be strolling freely down the Infinite Corridor seems enough to cut off all admission to international students. However, this policy has immediate detrimental consequences: firstly, it would seriously offend the international science community -- after all, what is studied at MIT is supposed to be universal -- upon which MIT relies for research collaboration, raw materials, and financial support. Secondly, after banning entry of new international students, there would still be the question of what to do with those already enrolled.

Some sort of middle ground policy, for example, accepting students only from countries considered “favorable ” would combine the problems associated with the extreme positions: It would still offend the international community, and since the United States cannot control the immigration policies of other nations, it would not decrease the chance that any individual might come from a country which supports terrorism.

Therefore, if I may be so bold, I would like to propose my own solution, to which I have given a great deal of thought, and which I think must be taken very seriously in these uncertain times. Now, I have heard from a very reliable source that human flesh is really quite indistinguishable from pork to a casual and unsuspecting diner -- in fact, depending on how it is prepared, it can be very nutritious. Instead of ordering expensive extra pepperoni on Bertucci’s pizza for conferences and meetings at MIT, we can just thinly slice some Italian grad students, and discretely use their meat as a replacement. If instead of pizza, conference-goers want Chinese take-out, we can take out some Chinese computer science majors, sautÉ them and add rice noodles. In short, we can eliminate terrorist threats, and at the same time fill our stomachs, by consuming our foreign students.

This operation will be dubiously code-named “the new student meal plan ” and will be grouped along with the administration’s now controversial intention to require a dining plan for all undergraduates in dormitories. With proper planning, “the new student meal plan” can make the old controversy moot: preparing and serving international students is almost costless, and so the meal plan will become instantly affordable. Furthermore, as a reflection of the international student population, meals will be very diverse. For example, on Mondays, Canadians can be served (it is rumored that they taste like tripe); on Tuesday, spicy Thais will be an exotic attraction, Japanese students are to be served raw on Wednesdays, then Indian student curry on Thursdays, and finally, perhaps French flambÉ on Fridays.

This may seem like a perfect cure-all, but we must not be naÏve. There is no guarantee that doing away with foreign students will entirely eliminate the possibility of terrorism at MIT -- as abhorrent as it is to think, there may be American terrorists among us. If we are to broil the international students, we must at least pre-heat the oven for those of us who are potential threats.

We must consider second generation Americans whose parents immigrated from “suspicious” countries. Their loyalty must be questioned, and their potential danger assessed. For example, assume that a student of Afghan descent is suspected of sympathizing with the Taliban. If he won’t permit his room to be searched or if we are short on meat for “Middle Eastern night” in Lobdell, then get the barbecue ready!

Peace activists are a threat -- if not for lack of patriotism, then at least for diminishing the resolve against terrorism of others. Conveniently enough, we have the most prominent one with us right here at MIT: so then, what do we do with Professor Chomsky? This is quite a crucial question, because it puts policy and prestige into direct conflict. We certainly wouldn’t want to endanger our safety, but imagine not being able to brag about “the founder of modern linguistics” being here at MIT! This situation must be left unresolved for now, and we will see what happens as we implement the plan. Most likely, we’ll have to lock him in his office and feed him until he dies naturally.

This brings up a bit of a sticky point: what can we do with foreign professors at MIT? The administration might hesitate to turn Professor Wolfgang Ketterle, winner of the 2001 Nobel prize in physics, into bratwursts for Oktoberfest. It would certainly be damaging to our reputation to shred Professor Mario Molina’s body and make Mexican style spicy chili. I suppose they can be locked in their offices too, but they are probably smart enough to escape (not to imply that Chomsky isn’t -- he’s just really old). Maybe these cases are exceptions, or at least acceptable risks.

I haven’t really discussed a moral question at issue here: is it wrong that we are supplementing our diet with our foreign nationals? In times of peace, one might be inclined to answer in the affirmative. But America is at war, and as Americans, we must take whatever steps are necessary to ensure our survival and propagation. We cannot stand by, helpless, as we are attacked. Each institution must take action -- and the so-called “new student meal plan” should be MIT’s way of doing so.

What, then, do we say to parents who start inquiring why their sons and daughters haven’t contacted them in six months? What do we say to the foreign embassies who come looking for their citizens after a year or two? In these cases, we must tell only the truth: these unfortunate souls are casualties of war, they are unwitting victims of our noble goal to guard the pursuit of happiness, the American dream, and the secure knowledge that as the morally superior nation of the world, we can have our international students, and eat them too.

Mikael C. Rechtsman is a member of the Class of 2003.