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Arrow Pointing Backwards

Philip Burrowes

After a short but suspenseful wait, the saga is over. Yes, Arrow St. CrÊpes has hours. The takeover is now complete, and Aramark’s name will soon be relegated to campus folklore status, along with Larry Bacow and a real Rush (unless you’re a Sloanie and eat at the Aramark-retained Refresher Course). For now, let us take a step back and sincerely -- however uselessly -- ask ourselves, “Are we better off now than we were then?” When it comes to food and MIT students, there are no easy answers.

Let’s start with the good news: the Stratton Center looks great. Coffeehaus isn’t open all day anymore but, let’s face it, it really wasn’t last year either. We can thank LaVerde’s’ taking the card for that. Now it’s a lot more crowded but with the same great taste[s]. Alpine Bagels just has so much more than its multiple geographic predecessors could boast, and it takes the card, so it’s crowded. Despite the lamentation and gnashing of teeth which followed the announcement of Toscanini’s departure, its replacement, Arrow St. CrÊpes, still stocks some of Tosci’s delights. Even though it is much larger than the store on Arrow St. itself, this dynamite confectionary combination has been attracting sweet-toothed scientists from day one, so it’s crowded. Finally, Lobdell seems to have severed its weekend operations for good, but its freshly diversified offerings keep the kids coming during classtime so, of course, it’s crowded. Sensing a pattern here? Well, you’re wrong.

Hopping across Mass. Ave. brings an entirely different picture. Lobdell’s evil twin, Walker, lost its only visually appealing component in Jump’s generically East Asian cuisine. The sushi bar is hardly a fair replacement, especially since Sodhexo sells sushi everywhere (along with the exact same wraps and salads every day). While the homestyle concept seemed like a good idea, well, just look at the stuff. Don’t, however, look at the pizza.

Across the EC courtyard, they’ve managed to make non-freshmen nostalgic for Bio Bagels with the “return” of Bio CafÉ. For those of you not in the know, Bio CafÉ (which itself was not a much-welcomed addition to the then-Aramark monopoly) served pretty cheap, large, and suspiciously delicious subs ($3.99 for a foot). It was replaced with Bio Bagels, which sold, of course wraps (okay, okay, AND bagels) at higher prices but more flavor variety. Now, Bio CafÉ serves us the worst of both worlds; small, flavorless sandwiches at high prices. Try squeezing some mustard out of those folks, let alone chipolte mayo. Most users of Bio’s seating are actually cheaters who obviated the mess and went to a truck. (For the record, there are other trucks besides Gooseberry’s, people.)

Course-dependent locations like the IV-happy Dome and E[.R.]astside were not immune to this systematic degeneracy. Dome lost its ridiculously thin but nonetheless scrumptious quesadillas, and Eastside, well, Eastside lost its soda dispenser. Joke if you will, but 32-oz of Minute Maid Lemonade is a steal at $1.19, even if it has no lemons.

Dependency theorists should recognize this model well. Stratton represents the metropole, and with the rest of campus taking on the form of colonies. The further out from the metropole you get, paradoxically the more dependent the colonies are; students can only stomach Walker knowing that real food awaits them on the normal side of campus.

Pritchett sort of blows this model away, since it’s arguably better than it was last year. MacGregor barely changed, Simmons has no venue to compare itself to, and nobody really cares about Baker or Next House. You could pretend that residential and campus dining are distinct entities, but they enter into the same budget as far as MIT is concerned.

The old campus dining system ultimately fell not because of consumer dissatisfaction, but because the system was by and large unprofitable. Isn’t the point of a campus dining system to feed people, however? Chicken tenders might not have been flying off the shelf in Lobdell at 6 p.m., but if one person wanted it his way, right away, wasn’t it all worth it? At the very least, keeping outlets open longer provides more jobs to the community, money that would otherwise be spent on something silly like a 24-hour library.

Oh, right, this is a school, isn’t it? Sometimes we forget that and think that MIT is supposed to be some self-sustaining microcosm. Blame LSC all you want, but you’re the people too out of it to see a movie in wide release. Unless you’re a grad student, however, you have no business being on campus all the time. Do you want some fast food? Go to Central Square. As for Tosci’s, you can’t step outside without running into one of those suckers. While lamenting old venues, wish we still had a Newbury Comics? Try Newbury Street. Miss the dorm camaraderie fostered by residential dining? It’s all a lie; look at Wellesley.