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Crunch time in the dining halls

Arnav Dutt | Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The most important campus election of the year was held a week ago today, but hardly anyone I’ve asked had any idea it happened. I am referring to Notre Dame Food Services’ Annual Serious Cereal Survey, which determined which cereals are to fill Our Lady’s granaries next year. We are certainly fortunate to go to a school that allows us to democratically elect our breakfast cereal options, particularly when we are not free to choose our student leadership (slightly more irony than a bowl of Kellogg Product 19, no?). Though I understand that these elections are a privilege and not a right, I feel the urge to bite the hand that feeds. What good do these elections do, anyway, if they aren’t done right?

I am convinced that Food Services is committed to administering fair and transparent elections, the purpose of which is to satisfy as many of the Dining Halls’ patrons as possible. It attempts to do this through a two-day election process. At lunchtime on the first day, (Monday, March 11 this year), Dining Hall grazers were given the opportunity to try out as many of the contenders as they could.

On the second day, lunch patrons voted by selecting their three “favorite” cereals from a long list of options. They were to number these options one to three, based on preference. The only other stipulations were that spots will be reserved next year for students with various allergies. Past years have made a bigger deal of the event itself – for example, some of you may remember last year when Tony the Tiger, Toucan Sam and their campaigns visited North Dining Hall. There is something for everyone in these elections.

But there are a number of things wrong with the process, not the least of which is a publicity problem. The elections need to be better promulgated. I’m talking ad campaigns, snazzy posters, mascots, loud music, “Rock the Vote” events, stump speeches and the like. Very few people know we have a cereal election at all, and fewer still could tell you what day they’re going to be held any given year. I myself am one of the former group, though I clearly I am all about this election.

I must admit I am a little confused by the move to allow everyone to test out the challengers. It is as if Food Services wants us to make decisions informed solely on taste. But there are other important criteria to evaluate as well – we ought to be given time to glance over candidates’ nutritional facts, we ought to be given time to think over our votes in general and we ought to be able to judge incumbents based on their record in office. Does anyone actually eat Blueberry Morning? It ought to be accountable for that. I imagine the Dining Halls have a pretty good idea of which cereals are popular and which aren’t.

Why, for that matter, should our most popular cereals’ seats go up for reelection at all? Popular cereals shouldn’t need to be elected again. If people eat way more Frosted Mini-Wheats than they do anything else, why should we have to spend our precious votes to renew our subscription? Actually we probably won’t. Have you ever wondered why there are no Cheerios in North Dining Hall? It isn’t because people don’t like them. But if I am given three weighted votes, I will give undue preference to my special interests.

I love Frosted Mini-Wheats, Cheerios, Smart Start, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Kashi, in that order. But I can only vote for three of them. And so, had I voted, I would have voted for the last three (which are slightly more esoteric preferences than the others) and relied on others to vote for Cheerios and Mini-Wheats. Surely, this behavior explains why we have so many options, but no Cheerios.

Along those lines, this election really ought to be more of a special interests election. The onus should not be on the voters to balance conflicting interests. When we cast our ballots, we are electing more than just cereal. We are inadvertently endorsing ways of life. To prioritize Lucky Charms or Fruit Loops over granola is to prioritize fun over health. Why on earth is that responsibility placed in our hands? Also, since when can you make valid comparisons between healthy cereals and fun ones? They are apples and oranges.

We should not have to choose our cereals off one gigantic list. Rather, we should be asked to choose one from each category, so that we don’t wake up one morning to discover that there are four healthy choices scattered among a wasteland of Cookie Crisp, Cocoa Pebbles, Fruity Pebbles, Trix and the like. By the way, the last two are the same exact thing. If you think they aren’t, go back to high school.

Last, and most importantly: Disclose the results! If you want people to show up for the election, they need to believe that their votes count! Right now, this election is little more than a mysterious and unpredictable process that is full of unexpected upsets. You get the picture; we already have March Madness, and we like it better. Take this cereal survey a little more seriously. If anyone can give this student body an election that matters, it’s you.

Arnav Dutt is a junior. He can be reached at adutt1@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.