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Standing Up for The Sit-Down System
Millie Gu '22 Staff Writer
February 21, 2021

I remember my first sit-down meal at Deerfield. I was sitting in the south side of the dining hall near the kitchen door. Though I felt a little intimidated at first (the only person that I knew at the time was my Green Key) this feeling quickly went away as the faculty head and the seniors at the table engaged me into the conversation, introducing to me their favorite Deerfield traditions, favorite meals, and the best part of their summers. This is the kind of unique and unforgettable tradition that all Deerfield graduates remember. 

However, this year’s sit-down has not been the same. The round table with about ten people, faculty and students included, changed into a rectangle one with only four students sitting at four opposite corners. The significant decrease in the number of people at a table limits the opportunity for meeting new people, which is one of the major goals of the Deerfield sit-down tradition. Additionally, in the first of the two rotations this term, many of us are sitting with our squads, who we were already familiar with. That means that under the current sit-down system, many of us would only be able to meet three new faces, and even for those who are not currently sitting with their squads, a maximum of six. 

Considering the small number of people at a table, it is even harder to convene people of different grades and backgrounds, making it harder for people to be exposed to diverse perspectives. What’s worse, the physical distance that we have to maintain directly correlates to the mental distance: with six-feet in between, I usually found myself hearing only intermittently fragments of words. Under such circumstances, smooth communication becomes a challenge. How many of us are willing to start a potentially awkward conversation in which people are constantly asking “what did you say?” Sadly, as a result, people start to go on their phones and even take out their laptops to work, entirely eliminating any chance of communication that bonds people together.

What struck me even more than the lack of communication was the food waste that is created every meal. Because we cannot directly let the dining hall staff know how much food we want exactly, it is impossible for them to determine the right amount of food to put in every box. As a first waiter who has to carry food from the kitchen,  I can feel the entree boxes so full that another spoonful is going to break them. The food in the boxes, at least on our table, are never finished; especially when the meal is not generally liked by the table, the entire box of food is put back into the bucket almost untouched. The situation is even worse on a table with less than four people, which happened when the previous three positive cases led to 60 close contacts in quarantine. At least one serving of everything was thrown away, a piece of bread, a dessert, and even an never-opened packet of utensils or dressings. All of them went directly into the trash; once we touched them, they all got thrown away. With 690 million people still suffering from hunger, it is really a shame to squander such a large quantity of food on a daily basis.

With the three positive cases in the earlier round of testing on campus, new issues regarding the safety of sit-down meals emerge. How safe is it when over a hundred people are taking off their masks at the same time in the same space? How do we ensure that people are constantly staying six feet apart, and how do we ensure that the person serving the food is not spreading germs? 

The reason for writing this piece is not to complain, since I am very grateful for the hard work that Deerfield had put in to ensure an as authentic experience as possible, and the effort of the dining-hall staff to serve us fresh, warm food. However, I do want to call attention to the concerns  not only from me, but also from our parents and the larger school community. I also want to propose some ways to relieve these issues: to reduce waste, we could set stations for utensils and condiments in the dining hall that each table can go to after they decide how much they want; to improve personal hygiene, we could give each individual a box of food instead of those big boxes for the table, and serve less to begin with; to bonding the school more effectively, we could hold more inter-squad events. I truly look forward to a day when a more environmentally friendly, healthier, and more connected Deerfield comes back.