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Why not more food trucks?

Dining at MIT faces tough financial constraints and high expectations, but this is MIT! If we can’t figure out a solution that offers tasty, nutritious, and affordable food options to those who want them, who can? Professor Slocum got the ball rolling with some creative ideas for transforming food culture here; let’s have everyone propose ideas to HDAG and show that there are many alternatives to the traditional subsidize-an-overpriced-vendor model for campus dining.

Here’s one: Anyone who’s had a Korean BBQ taco in downtown Los Angeles knows how amazing food truck food can be. Even here in Cambridge, trucks like Clover and Momogoose are profitable, popular, and serve a variety of great meals everyday. They can flexibly locate anywhere on campus and are constantly innovating based on feedback from customers. Plus, they’re ridiculously cheap compared to other lunch options in the area.

We should allow food trucks to park in clusters along Dorm Row in the evening, rotating positions throughout the week and serving students on their way home from class and sports practice. Maintain the dining halls as places to eat together, and negotiate parking contracts with the truck owners to ensure food quality, cleanliness, and regular service during the semester. Give them TechCash readers for convenience, and access to MIT wireless so they can tweet their locations and specials. And route them to East Campus and the graduate dorms as well; no dining plan so far has improved options for them.

Would there be enough entrepreneurs willing to start mobile food stands and meet the demand of the MIT campus? I’m not sure. Yet, I think the optimal outcome to our dining issues will only come from an environment fostering creativity, choice, and competition. No amount of negotiating with large monopolistic food vendors like Aramark or tweaking convoluted charts of meal “subscriptions” will reach this goal.

David Lee G

Full-body scanners answer unasked questions

Keith Yost’s column “The banana-equivalent dose” (November 23, 2010) reads more like a TSA press release than a well thought-out explanation for passengers’ objections to the new full-body scanners. He describes that “we” (who is this unnamed “we”?) have created this new security measure as though it is an inevitable response, without telling us about any of the decisions and motivations that have led to its deployment over the past three years, and without presenting any alternative means to ensure passengers’ safety.

No one is denying that there are people who wish to harm us, and that there have been several unsuccessful attempts at detonating explosives on US-bound flights over the past eight years, all on airplanes that originated overseas. No one also denies the horror of September 11, 2001, but the weapons the hijackers used would have already been picked up using existing screening technology. During this same time, there have been several successful terrorist attacks overseas against buses and subways and hotels, the “soft” targets that Yost acknowledges are left unguarded. Will Yost therefore argue that these full-body scanners (or patdown alternatives) should also be implemented for all public transit passengers, and for all guests of upscale hotels?

Yost states that the scanners allow us to “obtain some chance of stopping a dedicated enemy who has shown shockingly little variety in his modus operandi.” If the enemy’s tactics are so unvaried, then why do we need to change a system that has worked well for the past eight years? In addition, Yost makes many observations without providing evidence to back them up. Has he seen firsthand the images produced by the scanners, and has he himself seen that the machines cannot save the images?

Yost argues throughout his piece that the scanners are a preferred alternative to the new patdowns, because the latter slow down the security screening and are a “few steps removed from a full body groping.” Yet he never even considers the alternative that the scanners are unnecessary, that they are a solution to a problem which is not calling out for an answer.

While Yost is “going through the damn scanner”, I will instead think for myself and not take at face value what the TSA is force-feeding the public.

Saul Blumenthal ’98
The Tech Advisory Board member

Badboys of Boston: calendar for charity?

Would you pay for half-nude pictures in order to support charity? The 2011 calendar, “The Bad Boys of Boston,” made with MIT’s Technique, launched on campus this week. The calendar is composed of racy pictures of models, all men from various groups at MIT, shown in seductive poses. I have seen the calendar, and the teasers up at http://badboys.mit.edu/ are much milder than the actual calendar. True, no one’s...er...phallus is shown, but the concept is all wrong. They don’t get it — clearly their calendar was made more for their own egos and perverted sense of humor than for the good of charity.

First of all, this sort of calendar, especially one titled “The Bad Boys of Boston,” is likely to get spread far and wide, and garner a lot of bad publicity for MIT. This will reflect on all of us. Remember the deodorant and toothbrushes for the reading room during finals last year? Bad odor and a complete lack of hygiene don’t represent MIT as a whole. Yet CNN and many other new outlets ran with the story, basically branding MIT as a smelly institution where people only study and don’t bother with bathing. Similarly, a calendar like this could very easily end up in the national news — especially something that could easily be branded as “Nerds Gone Wild.” I have talked with a member of the calendar staff, and they definitely plan to sell it to not only MIT, but many local colleges. In essence, this calendar will be spread all over. Pictures will appear all over the local news. Potential freshman and their parents will see these images. Administrators like Dean Colombo and Susan Hockfield will see them. Do we want news outlets publicizing pictures of people we know personally and embarrassing MIT? Do we want administrators, many of which who are deciding on the unpopular MIT dining plan to see this? Do we want prefrosh and their parents to see this, particularly when MIT is trying to increase enrollment by another 200 students per year? Clearly only bad publicity for all of us can come out of a calendar like this.

Furthermore, why raise money for charity using such a blatantly quasi-pornographic calendar? The calendar is raising money for the “Dream a Dream” foundation, which supports education for underprivileged children in India. Not only is it slightly repugnant to those of us who don’t think excessive skin is necessary for a calendar to put on your wall, but this calendar has no connection to this charity. Furthermore, what would the Dream a Dream foundation say if they realized that their funds came from the sale of something like this? That’s like raising money for a church by selling alcohol — not necessarily illegal, but something about it is just wrong.

Overall, I believe everyone on campus should boycott the calendar. The effect of the revenue on the Dream a Dream charity is likely to be small, especially in comparison to the damage of the bad publicity for all of us at MIT that is likely to result from large support on campus. Let’s not be the target of jokes about “Nerds Gone Wild,” alienate MIT administrators, or discourage potential students because of this calendar of hubris.

Melissa B. Yan ’14