My first meal at Val on move-in day was a little surreal; Val was alien to me, but I also recognized it as a place that would become central to my social life here at Amherst. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration—“Val-sitting” is an opportunity to both deny one’s mound of homework and spend really nice time with friends.
Val has indeed become a place where I spend a lot of time. One of the things that I’ve gotten used to, apart from the long lines for the guacamole, is composting. The precarious balancing act between tray and plate that composting involves is not always fun, but bussing my tray now feels just like a regular part of the Val routine. But I noticed something disturbing as I was leaving lunch a few weeks ago—students bypassing the line of their waiting peers to deposit their trays on the revolving metal shelves without composting their food or throwing their silverware into the respective containers. Once I noticed that first un-bussed tray, I couldn’t help but be bothered every time I saw trays strewn with dirty napkins and used silverware. Around a quarter of the plates returned to the dish room are still filled with half-eaten apples or uneaten paella. I am not someone who is easily irritated, so I wondered: why is this so maddening?
Although the decision to not bus one’s tray is a relatively small infraction compared to the huge mistakes that we will all make in our lives, I think it bothers me because it is just one of those modest tasks that should be done because we have an obligation to do them. Yes, the long compost lines before the first 10 AM class are not fun to wait in, and scraping cold oatmeal from one’s bowl is not particularly enjoyable. Yes, the dish room workers probably compost the food and sort the silverware for us if we choose to leave it for them. But they shouldn’t have to do this. These small tasks have been designated as our responsibility, one of the only things that we students are expected to do outside of our classes.
Amherst is filled with very smart, talented people. We students view ourselves as future leaders, thinkers, politicians—people who change things. We will. But if we can’t learn to take responsibility for our role within a community, what are we really learning? The knowledge we receive in the classroom in preparation for our post-Amherst lives is not more important than what we learn from daily living. Becoming “educated” is practicing being a good person and fulfilling certain obligations that we have to the people around us. Taking care of your own compost is more crucial than it may seem—it’s about learning to do your part, how to be a functioning cog in the great machine of life.
So just compost your own apple core, please.