I know that disliking Bon App food is a fundamental part of the Carleton experience. I think that the motto of Northfield should be changed from Cows, Colleges and Contentment to “Cows, Colleges and Complaining about Bon App.” This last week hit a little bit differently for me, though. Like many students on campus, I participated in the Jewish holiday of Pesach (Passover) and all the traditions that it includes. One of these traditions is to avoid eating what’s referred to as chametz. Chametz is a larger term that encompasses any bread that is levaned. This is to commemorate our ancestors’ escape from Egypt as they speed-ran their way out. As the story goes, the Israelites didn’t have time to let their bread rise, so they ate matzo (a thin cracker-like bread) on the way out. This tradition of avoiding chametz has remained an integral part of the Jewish experience around the world during this holiday.
For those keeping track of Passover accommodations, this year wasn’t ideal. Matzo was sometimes not put out in the dining halls during certain meals, and when it was, it was usually placed in a very awkward location. To make matters worse, some of the matzo wasn’t even kosher for passover, and some of the matzo could come into contact with chametz.
Beyond the matzo, there was also general confusion about what items were kosher during the holiday. Passover lasts eight days (seven according to some traditions), and that’s a lot of time at Carleton. Burton often offered a small sign notifying people that a particular meal option would be kosher for Passover, but LDC seldom informed students if that was the case for their various meal options. Often, this forced students to do a gut check of their own food to determine its usability. This doesn’t even begin to address the issue of kitniyot (legumes, rice and corn). Many of the labels stating things were okay for consumption during Pesach were only okay under certain forms of Judaism. Certain denominations, and many families (including my own), don’t eat kitniyot for Passover because we believe that it’s chametz. Bon App made no effort to address these issues or disclose that information to students.
I don’t want this to be an attack on Bon App or on the dining halls in general. With the lack of student workers and the disarray that comes with a Carleton Spring Term, I understand the shortcomings as they pertain to Passover. I don’t want the dining hall workers or Bon App thinking that this is a general complaint, but rather that this can be a point of improvement in the future. Compared to some other years, this year was better in regards to the coordination that Bon App seemed to have with the Jewish Students of Carleton (JSC) board. That said, I think it could still be better.
I understand that accommodating a small minority of the Carleton student body is hard, but Passover is a big deal for Jews. Passover is the most widely celebrated Jewish holiday around the world, and I personally find its message to be very soothing during this time. In a decade when anti-Semitic hate crimes have been on the rise, politicians are being elected on extremely populist platforms and xenophobia and racism continue to show their ugly grasps on the American public and institutions, I find Passover to be a source of comfort. For some first-year students, this was their first time away from home on the holiday, and that experience is hard enough on its own. When there are more options for students during Passover, it makes the dining halls just a little better and helps make it feel kind of similar to home. I hope to see more changes next year, not in Jerusalem but in Northfield.