Long live the cookie liberation front

There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Except at the Humphrey Institute.

John Hoff

A radical left-wing revolution broke out at the Humphrey Institute this week over an alleged cookie-snatching incident at a private event held in the atrium.

Of course, I prefer to think of it as cookie “liberation,” part of a socially conscious “direct action” rooted in ultraprogressive social values, rather than snatching, stealing, swiping, pilfering or (worst of all) glomming an undetermined number of cookies from a tray that nobody cared about enough to protect with guards.

Unless you take classes at “The Hump,” as we call it, it might be difficult to understand how grad students obsessed with politics plus the nitty-gritty details of public policy tend to magnify little incidents, especially through the Humphrey’s infamous listservs, both official and unofficial. Discussions about unwashed dishes in the Jernberg lounge or procuring a new stapler turn into epic exchanges of tongue-in-cheek e-mail missives.

The purported and supposed incident of second-degree snack-napping apparently began humbly and anonymously enough.

In response to the purported pilferage, an e-mail notice went out saying “once again there have been complaints from groups renting space at the Institute for meetings and conferences about students/employees taking from the Atrium food service tables” some time prior to Nov. 15.

Further complicating matters is the fact “The Hump” has a well-developed system of leftover distribution, as one would expect of future public administrators who must run budgets and oversee employees.

At the Humphrey, banquet leftovers from various public events usually make their way to the main office and/or the student lounge, with word sent out over one or more listservs. Information about free bagels and cream cheese quickly produces a stampede, and the leftovers are consumed by graduate students who, like undergrads, pay hefty tuitions and appreciate free food.

Or at least we all thought that was the system. The epic e-mail exchange would reveal our network of sensible, frugal leftover distribution was broken and needed to be fixed.

Notified of the purported chocolate chip larceny, students did not hang their heads in collective shame. One student inquired about whether some food wasn’t going to the main office and declared “if you’re telling me that UDS or whoever is responsible for the food provision takes it back and serves it again at a different event Ö I don’t feel a tad bad about taking a cookie or seven when I walk through the atrium.”

Another student replied simply, “I am Spartacus.”

One student was awed that any brave souls had managed to obtain cookies, saying, “I just had to say that the times I’ve wandered within the food safety zone thinking to supplement my breakfast I’ve been barked at by multiple food police, so I’m impressed with anyone who managed to ‘liberate’ said food before events.”

Yet another denied the culprits were Humphrey students at all, telling me in a private e-mail, “I’ve got several undergrad friends and the joke/saying around them is that there’s no such thing as a free lunch Ö except at the Humphrey. So it’s likely that the personal e-mail targeted at HHH students isn’t really even targeted to the right people.”

He concluded, “If I pay $12,000 a semester for student fees you’re (expletive) right it can include a sandwich, cookie and a Diet Coke here and there.”

For my part, I gave public praise to the invisible, unknown, courageous members of the “Cookie Liberation Front.” And, of course, I denied involvement.

One of the most prominent students at the Humphrey, Graham Lampa, whose tendency to jump into listserv controversies has been celebrated with a video on YouTube, (“HHH Banquet – Epic E-Mail Battle”) suggested a policy change saying, “A condition of using the atrium for any event should be that leftover food is to be shared among anyone who happens to be at the Humphrey if it would otherwise go to waste” and spoke of an “ethical obligation” to share leftovers and, well, to stuff our hungry faces.

In the middle of this discussion, it was discovered that e-mail notices hadn’t been routinely going out to Humphrey students about leftovers, except students who were teaching and research assistants.

And so I found myself expressing hope right before Thanksgiving that Humphrey students would once again see the glory days of leftover “pasta salad with pepperoni, hearty rustic bread with real butter, chocolate-dipped strawberries, or (most important of all) those cute little custard cakes.”

But our campus, state and nation is like a larger version of the Humphrey Institute. There is plenty for everybody, and yet because of bad distribution practices, literal mountains of perfectly good food get discarded. This Thanksgiving, maybe all of us could take a little time to care about food waste in a world of hungry people.

Also, as many Humphrey students know, supplementing your budget with free leftovers is a great way to make your money stretch to the end of the semester.

John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected]