September 23, 2004

Cooking Without Gas

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When I arrived on West Campus at Sperry Hall last year, the first thing I heard was a conversation regarding a “temporary solution,” in which bigger and better things lay ahead for West, including talk of a “permanent solution.” Flash forward to the present, with the newly erected Alice H. Cook House and Carl Becker 2N, the first steps to this solution. These new Harvard-Princeton-Yale inspired residential colleges that hope to raise Cornell’s place in the rankings, and it is this question of the Cook House’s “permanence” as a definitive solution to the West Campus problem that resides foremost in my mind.

Let me begin by confessing some of my biases and the failings of this article with respect to the Cook House: 1) West doesn’t work for me. Living in Sperry for a full year, I decided that the location is to blame. As Derrida argued in his famous essay on the suicide phenomena at Cornell that the onlooker’s observation of the flow of the river has something to do with the desire to jump, the position of West at the bottom of Libe Slope — so that one living on West suffers the burden of constantly fighting an uphill battle — has something to do with the general mood and atmosphere on West. A new building can do nothing to change that.

Cornell could spend less time and money engineering the perfect colors on North Campus (e.g. Court and Mews) to keep their freshman sedately smiling and more time thinking about the West condition. 2) As you can well imagine by my comments already, I don’t live in Cook and don’t desire to. And as I’m sure many Cookites (or Cookians or Cookies) will say, I’m not in any position to review their heavenly abode or Shangri-La. But let me say preliminarily in response that I’ve done my research.

During RA training, all the RAs were invited to the grand opening of the Cook House to sample the eats and tour the complex. The hype was considerable. When we arrived, the construction crews were still busy putting the finishing touches on the Cook House. As we passed from the Gothics’s arches to the Cook dining hall, serving the West campus, the waft of shit hit us in the face. As we got closer, the smell intensified. Apparently, as someone told me afterward, they were installing the sewage pipes. You may say it is a mere association that upon returning to the Cook dining hall it still stunk like a cesspool at the entrance. Once inside the dining hall, you will you find an eating area beautifully and modernly constructed around high ceilings, broad windows, and excellent lighting. As someone remarked to me, the architecture reminded them of Frank Lloyd Wright.

The food is a different story entirely. Let me say, however, that much has improved after ample grousing from the Cornell Housing system. Consider what it stipulates in their dining plan: they “should assume a commitment to their house plan for their entire year” with only “20 ‘flex’ meals” per semester, and residents are “expected to have most of their meals at Cook House” along with the once-a-week required meal.

Coming to Cook, I hoped for a refreshing take on Cornell Dining, but sadly the food (or the lack thereof), was managed by the same people who managed to spoil the traveling gourmet nights at Jansen’s. At Cook, it feels like you’re on a totally different campus because the management on West bears no resemblance to the excellent management on North. As far as the food goes, there are soups and a salad bar, a make-your-sandwich station, a grill station, a pasta station, and a pizza station. The biggest complaint is that this beautiful new dinning hall has neither the volume nor the staff to cater to all of West campus. On return trips to Cook, friends complained about the variety, selection, and meagerness of food for breakfast and lunch. In consolation, they said dinner was much better. But with the building of new halls and their accompanying dining halls, this positive feedback will soon change. These dining halls will never be able to stack up to an Appel, RPCC, or even a Risley, but who’s comparing. What the Cook house dinning should concentrate on now is catering to their special customers, such as their 104 West students. As one Cook resident informed me, she had some difficulty coordinating a kosher meal plan. We can only hope such complications are a thing of the past.

Archived article by Jason Rotstein
Red Letter Daze Staff Writer