"Machine Cafeteria Irritates Students."
This was the front-page headline of the Johns Hopkins News-Letter in September 1971, shortly after the start of classes for the fall semester. According to the paper's reporters, Hopkins students had recently returned to campus only to find several unsavory changes to the Levering dining hall.
Much to their chagrin, Levering's home-cooked offerings had been replaced with automated vending machines, microwaves, and a station for "steam-injected sandwiches." By all accounts, the steam may have been more edible than the sandwiches.
Our students were not going to take it lying down. Describing the food as "plastic" and "nauseating," one group of undergrads even went so far as to buy hundreds of corned and roast beef sandwiches from a deli on Lombard Street and sell them—steam-free—to peers at Homewood. The Hopkins entrepreneurial spirit has deep roots.
But this "alternative food service," as it was advertised on flyers across campus, was ultimately unsustainable for the long haul. Heeding the students' pleas, the administration at last relented and Levering's dystopian culinary regime toppled. The automated dining hall was abandoned, and hand-prepared meals returned to our dining halls once more.
This episode in our history is a striking reminder that the Hopkins dining experience should be a source of joy, comfort, and the feeling of home. Guided by this principle, we have spent the past year bringing all our dining operations in-house instead of contracting with an external partner. This has allowed us to welcome more than 150 staff into the Hopkins family, refresh the atmosphere of our dining halls, and launch a new catering arm to serve the university.
Our dining services teams have also expanded our featured dishes across Hopkins to reflect the diverse experiences of our community, from house-made gelato to Puerto Rican pernil to barbeque jackfruit. Through our ongoing support of local and regional farms and vendors, as well as the daily warmth of our cashiers, chefs, and line workers, we are continuously seeking new ways to help our community feel well-fed and deeply appreciated.
As someone who loves breaking bread with family and friends but whose own repertoire of dishes is confined to scrambled eggs and reheated tomato sauce, I am grateful to see such an expansive and inclusive menu offered throughout our campuses. I am deeply grateful, too, to the generations of Hopkins students who have always understood the boundless value in a meal prepared with care and the pleasure of dining among friends, peers, and colleagues.
This is what food does. It brings people together, expanding our tastes and inspiring us to greater creativity. It truly binds a community.
Ronald J. Daniels