Rated as the No. 2 university for food and dining by Cappex, UCLA has invested great time and effort to fill up empty bellies. In fact, several UCLA students think regular meal times are just not enough and often proceed to smuggle large food quantities such as three bananas, five cookies and even pieces of chicken out of the dining halls. With the hilly greens of UCLA as a backdrop, both UCLA students and housing faculty share their mixed opinions on food smuggling.
ZHOU: On a typical Saturday morning, Bruin Plate is hustling and bustling with student diners. After eating brunch, one student takes two bananas, stuffs them inside his hoodie and walks out. This scene plays out often – students illegally taking extra food out of a dining hall. I recently surveyed 67 UCLA students, and 33 of them admitted to smuggling food. Although the sample itself does not necessarily generate an accurate representation of the behaviors of fellow Bruins, the results strongly suggest that food smuggling actually happens at UCLA. Associate director of dining services Charles Wilcots is no stranger to it.
Wilcots: As I walk our facilities, I do at times observe and see residents abusing policies that are in place by taking things out that they probably shouldn’t.
ZHOU: What are these so-called dining hall policies? According to UCLA Dining, diners cannot take out more than one ice cream cone, one piece of fruit or two cookies. But just because there are rules in place doesn’t mean that students don’t break them. I interviewed two UCLA students about their experiences with food smuggling, using pseudonyms to protect their identities.
Ocelot: I think part of it is that people feel like they are already paying for the food with their meal plan, and it is sort of like the mentality of, “What is one more pear/apple/bottle of honey?” when we are paying so much from room and board. People don’t think it means a lot in the grand scheme of things.
ZHOU: That was second-year student Ocelot. She’s an occasional food smuggler.
Ocelot: As long as you don’t look like you are smuggling anything out, you just sort of walk out like normal. I don’t think many of them actually care unless you obviously look like doing something shady.
ZHOU: Now this is second-year student John Cena.
Cena: I would say it is from laziness. To buy stuff from Ralphs, you have to carry it back, it gets heavy and expensive. Since you are already paying so much, so why not just take a little extra.
ZHOU: Another chronic food smuggler, Cena thinks it’s a mission that involves adept skills and strategic planning.
Cena: Pant-stuffing is a big winner in my book. Otherwise, I will put food in pockets or tuck it under your arm and just walk around like you have a purpose, and no one will stop you.
ZHOU: While students like to smuggle food in large quantities, they are also selective about the kinds of food they take out of the dining halls. Just as there is a hierarchy in society, there is also a status pyramid of food-smuggling options in the dining halls. At the top of that pyramid are fresh fruits and tea packets.
Ocelot: I think a lot of people take fruit because it is a good on-the-go breakfast, and also because it is a good snack, and if you are running late to class, you can eat it on your way to class, so it is good to have it in your room.
Cena: Usually fruit, sometimes tea, sometimes a sandwich. Actually, one anecdote – I was stealing a bunch of grapes, and didn’t bring a bag because I don’t plan ahead for things, so I just wrapped it up in a bunch of napkins and then I stuffed it down my pants and walked out.
ZHOU: Of course, there are always two sides to every story. Few dining employees were willing to talk about food smuggling, but we were able to catch up with Wilcots. He feels that the issue with food smuggling is a much bigger issue than it seems.
Wilcots: I have got a talking point, part of student code regulations on campus – food may not be brought in from outside or removed from the residential restaurants – and I always try to tie that into what that actually means: true Bruin values. I often see a lot of pride of at the heart of what it means to been a true Bruin. I see it every day with students here, whether they take on commitment with their values while facing adversity and making right ethical choices.
ZHOU: But it doesn’t come down to just ethics.
Wilcots: It is bothersome, sometimes, to see students when they do take things. I don’t know if they understand the ramifications of that and what it does to other Bruins on campus, because if you take things, then there is a potential in increases in costs by doing so. I think it is very important to educate fellow students what the adverse effects of their actions (are), if it has something to do with being self-aware, by the actions of taking things outsides of facilities, and so on.
ZHOU: Many students went through orientation learning about the key principles of true Bruin values. True Bruin values compose of integrity, excellence, accountability, respect and service. And as Bruins, students are expected to abide by the highest ethical standards at all times. Wilcots is pretty surprised by students taking pride in being UCLA students, yet engaging in activities that lack integrity and going against official regulations in place. The UCLA community is still debating whether management should enact more regulations to moderate such behavior.
Cena: I think they should turn a blind eye to it, and continue turning a blind eye to it.
Ocelot: I guess they can just have the people at the door looking out more carefully, since they are usually so busy and they don’t pay attention to the students walking out.
ZHOU: Wilcots thinks collaboration from the UCLA community can help prevent students from smuggling food.
Wilcots: I don’t know if it is strictly should be a dining-services agenda. I think the community as a whole should have discussions and talk about the reasons of smuggling food and what the effects of that have on the community just to generate dialogue and understanding. I think it is very important to educate fellow students what the adverse effects of their actions (are). If it has something to do with being self-aware, by the actions of taking things outsides of facilities, and so on.
ZHOU: As UCLA continues to admit more students every year, it’s hard to predict how food smuggling in dining halls will develop. Though students lament over growing costs of attending school, there’s still debate over whether giving up food smuggling is really worth lower living expenses.
For Daily Bruin Radio, this is Connie Zhou.