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Tracking COVID-19 at UCLADance Disassembled: Seeing Beyond the Curtain

Dorm residents master the art of dining hall thievery

By Kylie Reynolds

April 27, 2010 11:16 p.m.

Stealing food and items from the dining halls is an unofficial tradition for many students who live on the Hill.

Ranging anywhere from extra apples to chairs, numerous students have mastered the technique of pilfering dining hall items. Some have taken the tradition a step further by creating competitions over who can steal the most.

“There was one time with five of my friends when we got 53 cookies in De Neve,” said Akash, a second-year psychobiology student. “We pay a good amount, and we should be able to enjoy (the cookies) when we are not in the dining hall, so we stocked our fridge.”

Jonathan, a fourth-year business economics and math engineering student, and his team comprised of friends Mark and John consider stealing a platter full of pastries as their most impressive achievement.

While they steal 20 to 30 pieces of fruit on average, Jonathan, Mark and John are working up to swindling larger items.

“We were working on getting the swiping machine, but we needed more manpower,” Jonathan said. “We also were trying to get frying pans and the soy milk. We got pretty close to the (soy milk) but it’s like a five gallon bag, so it’s pretty tough.”

A Facebook group devoted to the art of dining hall theft lists fruit baskets, silverware and the De Neve Late Night hot dog sign among the items students boast to have stolen.

So what motivates students to steal from the dining halls?

“People take food that they pay for that they might want but not at the moment,” Akash said. “With swipes, you can only eat so much for that time period, so it’s just getting more for your swipe.”

Other students admitted more deviant intentions.

“It’s like a sport to us. If you’re hungry, you eat before you go to the dining halls, because when we go into the dining halls, we are working. You don’t eat at work,” Jonathan said.

The skills required to steal items is a source of bragging rights for students. Such abilities include utilizing napkins and wearing baggy clothing, Akash said.

“We will have a baggy jacket with sports backpacks underneath our jacket. Cargo shorts, baggy pants,” Jonathan said. “It’s about the art of deception. When you walk out with nothing, that’s when people get suspicious.”

However, stealing from the dining halls is not without its consequences. Although many students successfully sneak food out after meals, dining management does enforce punishments for those who are caught.

“Anyone we’ve caught, we do pursue. We do determine what the dollar amount of what they try to take is and then we hand that over to the officer of residential life or the assistant dean,” said Alex Macias, the area manager for De Neve dining hall. “They determine what the next steps will be, whether there will be some kind of academic action they will take with the person or just give them community service.”

While food is stolen most often, the theft of silverware and baskets does have a significant impact on dining services’ budget.

“We take inventory every week and we do see there’s a loss in each category, whether in silverware, mugs or plates. … It is a burden on our budget,” Macias said.

Theft impacts future students’ housing fees, Macias said.

“If you are a returning student, you are affecting yourself,” he said. “Obviously we go through the process of looking at our history and what we are currently spending and forecast our expenditures. From that, we determine what the rates are going to be for housing fees.”

Macias attributes the nature of the dining hall system as being the reason why students are prone to stealing. In his opinion, students view the dining halls as their kitchen, rather than as a restaurant or a grocery store and therefore feel entitled to take food.

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Kylie Reynolds
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