Big food cooks up big publicity

By Isaac Himmelman

Last year at the University of Massachusetts, 300 volunteers used 650 seaweed sheets, 200 pounds of rice, 200 pounds of imitation crab, 100 pounds of avocado, 100 pounds of cucumber, two pounds of sesame seeds, five gallons of soy sauce and six pounds of wasabi to create the longest sushi roll of all time. This year again, chefs and volunteers used 800 pounds of chicken, 535 pounds of onions, 464 pounds of carrots, 216 pounds of peppers, 242 pounds of green beans, 200 pounds of peanuts, 50 pounds of garlic and 11 pounds of basil to cook up the largest stir-fry of all time.

Hannah Cohen/Collegian
Hannah Cohen/Collegian

I’m concerned. Is this becoming an annual thing? Could someone high up in the administration have an inexplicable food fetish? Perhaps a fairer question to ask is, “why has the University been making such an aggressive push to break all these cooking records?”  Is it a means for the school to garner positive publicity?

Granted, the story was picked up by the likes of the Associated Press and the Washington Post. Yet, while New York University was making news for having South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone crash a class as guest lecturers, and Tufts University was making news for having announced President Bill Clinton as their annual Fares Lecturer this coming November, we’re the school making news for having the largest stir-fry in history. Is that the kind of publicity we want? Perhaps Chancellor Holub can see to it that our school’s motto be changed to “University of Massachusetts Amherst: Biggest Food Ever.”

According to the Washington Post article, the University cooked the largest stir-fry in order to promote sustainability and healthy eating. Healthy eating? Seriously? An equally dubious reason was given to justify last year’s 400-foot long sushi roll. I’m not buying it. In fact, I am hard pressed to think up a more ineffective way to promote healthy eating than frying up 4,010 pounds of food in front of college students.

Yet the most embarrassing part of our school’s sudden foray into colossal culinary achievements is that at no point during six months of preparation did anyone at UMass Amherst Auxiliary Enterprises stop and think, “You know, maybe stir-frying 4,010 pounds of food on national television isn’t the best move right now seeing as the Horn of Africa is currently experiencing one of the worst famines of all time.” Or, “Maybe serving up 800 pounds of chicken to the largest freshmen class in our school’s history is best done with little to no fanfare since almost 16,000 children die of hunger-relatd causes every day.”

I understand this was done as a means of promoting community on campus. However, perhaps next year the University can find a community building method that doesn’t involve cooking record-breaking amounts of food in front of television cameras. That way, while we may not have Bill Clinton coming to speak anytime soon, at least we, the student body, can be proud to attend a university known for more than our long sushi rolls and massive stir-fries.

Isaac Himmelman is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]