In search of lobsters

There is something deeply satisfying in wrenching apart those crimson crustaceans we call lobsters. Yes, for some of us, dipping its tender flesh in fresh melted butter is a carnal espresso shot. I like my lobster, and I missed it at Harvest Dinner. I will willingly wear a bib to eat my lobster. I am sure some of my fellow upperclassmen at Williams miss it too, as is apparent on WSO postings.

Instead of criticizing Dining Services or the school, however, why not look beyond the missing lobster on the plate? Did anyone happen to see the Romenesco Broccoli that was being served in the Gardiniere? The sweet, sweet acidity in the pickled vegetables punctuated by their crunch made my mouth pop with delight. Those mind-bogglingly elegant fractals came from the summer labors right in our backyard. Planting and harvesting hundreds of pounds of fresh vegetables, washing them, poaching them and then pickling them – these were the efforts of farmer Bill Stinson from Peace Valley

Farm, the team at Dining Services and the numerous students that toiled on the farm.
Isn’t the Harvest Dinner supposed to be a celebration centered on community? When has it become a lobster-eating extravaganza, with its emphasis on the extravagance of the food? I would much rather enjoy my meal with the soft ambience of candles, amidst my friends and the occasional chuckling from the children present, than to be confined to an indoor stadium with blinding lights and sheer noise. This year’s event was held in a well-intentioned tent and not the Towne Field House. But before complaining about the rain, should we not remember the staff who always served us all with such good cheer?

Some have mentioned online that the removal of the lobster signifies a loss of tradition, and perhaps, even the school’s mistreatment of the event. I find those accusations unfounded. First, losing a lobster does not in any way plunge us nearer towards the gastronomical abyss that Amherst students suffer daily with their single dining hall. On the contrary, our numerous dining halls are the envy of many students outside of Williams. And Whitmans’ in Paresky is something that other schools drool about, just as I drooled over my cornbread served on Friday made from scratch in Whitmans’ bakeshop. How many of us are aware of our bakers’ toil as they work during the ungodly hours in Paresky basement?

Further, if we say we are teetering on the edge of losing our tradition because of our loss of the lobsters, what should we then call the invitation of our beloved Auyon Mukharji ’07, David Senft ’07 and his band back on campus? If we could advocate for inviting aspiring artists from our own cohort back on campus with as much fervor as we denounce the loss of our lobsters, we might just help nurture many a future star. I, for one, enjoyed listening to Auyon jam with the French-Canadian folk group, Le Trio Lyrique.

This year’s menu was a lot healthier and friendlier for our vegan and vegetarian friends. Though many may question the funky-looking Smoked Sea Vegetable Medley Stew, at least Dining Services made an effort to consult Ken Bergeron, the first chef to have won the Culinary Olympics’ Vegan section back in 1994, and they intend to attempt to implement many more of his recipes.

Nonetheless, I do mourn the loss of the lobster, and yes, perhaps, it might be a slight injury to a tradition at Williams. But as much as we may try to talk about conservation, buying and consuming local products, we may be distracted by the word “local” and forget that it is about “locality” as well.

Alas, no lobster this year, and my stomach yearns for it. Hopefully it will make its return to next year’s Harvest Dinner with as much love and time that has been spent on our event last Friday. Yet, I am glad that our spiny friend has made me look beyond the plate, bringing about a discussion about community through food.

Steven Cheng ’10 is a comparative literature major from Singapore.