Friday, September 17, 2010
While this is clearly a Princeton-oriented blog, it is hard to refrain from commenting on an op-ed piece by Penn senior Pranav Merchant appearing in today's Philadelphia Inquirer, calling for an end to a Penn tradition:
The University of Pennsylvania's first home football game is this weekend, and it will no doubt feature the traditional singing of "Drink a Highball" at the end of the third quarter. At one time, it was also tradition to take a swig of beer upon reaching the line of the song that calls for "a toast to dear old Penn."Though I am reluctant to admit it, I do have some standing to opine on this matter -- while my father (who grew up next to the Penn campus) had the good sense to go to Princeton, and brainwash me in orange and black, I have many relatives who went to Penn, which is, after all, part of the Ivy League. Kind of.
After alcohol was banned from the stadium in the 1970s, students began marking that line by throwing toast onto the field instead. This tradition came to be known as the Toast Toss, and it continues to this day. Innocent, alcohol-free college fun, right?
Wrong. Penn has replaced consuming alcohol with wasting loaves and loaves of perfectly edible bread, all in the service of a play on words.
Students fling about $500 worth of bread onto the field per game, all funded by the school and sponsors. Some students add their own toast to the total, but most of it is provided by the Penn staff. (You can watch the toss yourself in numerous videos on the Web.)
What happens to all this toast? It's tossed again - into the garbage. In other words, every year, the university is trashing a massive amount of food.
This is a cavalier and startling display, especially in Philadelphia, where almost a quarter of the population and a third of the children live in poverty. Indeed, St. Mary's Episcopal Church and Penn Hillel maintain food pantries on campus.
So, is a Penn senior justified in complaining about a few thousand dollars of wasted food during the course of a home football schedule, or is he just being a killjoy ("cavalier and startling")?
Here's what the Penn Athletics website has to say about the tradition:
Toast throwing is one of the most unique sporting traditions at Penn which crowds of Quakers fans perform as a sign of school pride. After the third quarter of Penn football games at historic Franklin Field, the spirited fans unite in the singing of “Drink a Highball.” As the last line is sung, “Here’s a toast to dear old Penn,” the fans send toast hurling through the air to the sidelines. Legend has it that this tradition began back in the mid-1970s, and after a couple of games where thousands of pieces of toast covered the track, a group of engineering students modified Penn’s motorized turf cleaner so it would be able to pick up larger pieces of trash. These days, it is belovedly called the “Toast Zamboni” and is a permanent fixture at Penn football games.It seems to me that if the toast throwing has done nothing more than stimulate the creative work of a group of engineering students, then it has served an educational purpose in keeping with the mission of the university.
I infer from Mr. Merchant's name that he may well be of South Asian extraction, and might be particularly sensitive to the plight of the hungry, since, for a variety of reasons, hunger and starvation are tragically more common in that part of the world. I can appreciate that he may find the symbolism of wasted food significantly more offensive than a student or alum with a few generations of history at an Ivy League institution. The fact that most restaurants in Philadelphia would waste a multiple of that amount of food each week is probably besides the point -- that Penn undergrads who are being trained to think in terms of social justice would willfully waste food to support a silly and short-lived tradition just seems incongruous. His idea may in fact gain some traction.
Moreover, I would think that there are other opportunities on the Penn campus to eliminate waste -- perhaps doing away with the marching band (the energy savings of eliminating transportation to the away games would be meaningful), and melt down the instruments to provide for brass fixtures for low-income housing in the area; require the cheerleaders, when not cheering, to pedal stationary bicycles that would generate electrical power for Franklin Field, etc. I am sure that TigerHawk readers could suggest many other possibilities, short of doing away with Penn altogether.
In the near term, while the Penn trustees are debating this issue, I suggest that a group of enterprising Princeton undergrads, possibly studying evolutionary biology, use public transportation (Amtrak from 30th Street Station to Princeton Junction and the Dinky) to bring the wasted toast to Princeton, and feed it to the black squirrels. Then again, do we really want Princeton to be accepting hand-me-downs of any sort from Penn?
UPDATE: Mr. Merchant's concerns illustrate an unintended secondary effect of doing away with alcohol on campus in certain situations. If beer was still served at Franklin Field, there would be a regular toast, and no wordplay, and no wasted food (assuming, rightfully so, that all of the beer was eventually consumed).
You Ivy Leaguers, so obsessed with your ranking in the hierarchies. I guess it's harmless fun, you need something to bolster your piteous self-esteem. I mean, given that you weren't able to get into Penn State and all...
Much ado about nothing.
In the USA, poverty does not equal hungry. Indeed there are something like 17 Federal programs for feeding the poor. Obesity among the poor is a far greater problem than malnutrition.
Look at the massive egg recall of a month ago. ALL of those eggs were safe to eat if cooked properly and yet they were thrown away because we can afford to waste food in this country.
Wasting $500 of bread a week is nothing in that context and nobody is being deprived unless you think starving Ethiopians will some how be less hungry if the bread is not wasted.
They could recycle the toast by showing the Rocky Horror Picture Show on campus on Saturday nights, after the games (that will make sense to some of you, perhaps). And then follow that second use up with a Sunday morning communion wafer stint - that always tasted like dried cardboard, so why not stale toast.
Or just send it to Penn State for their frosh meal plan.
Anon 2:42 -You should take comfort in the fact that I follow Penn State football fairly closely, and so does my old college roommate (also from PA). Since the 1970s, when it was clear that Princeton no longer was part of major college football, it was important to have a rooting interest in a big-time team. For TigerHawk, it is obviously the Iowa Hawkeyes.
So, while last weekend must have been painful for you, I felt some of your pain (to borrow a phrase from President Clinton).
There is a legitimate line of thinking as to whether it makes sense to drop $200K+ on an "elite" school education, or go in-state to a place like PSU and take honors track courses, possibly on an achievement-based academic scholarship (available back in the day when I was in high school). Instapundit, for example, comments frequently on the "bubble of higher education." Heck, Ben & Jerry famously founded their ice cream empire (they wouldn't like that word) based on a $5.00 correspondence course they took from PSU.
But for most Princetonians, there is almost an old-time Mafia-like loyalty to the institution that is difficult to articulate.
Seems a small step from picking up the toast with the toast zamboni to giving it to someone who could use it. Surely someone must raise hogs someplace around Princeton----or is that considered declasse.
As a Penn alum (1975), I have to say that the toast-throwing is one of the more ridiculous things to have been devised at my alma mater in the last 35 years. Far from being a tradition, it is a late-1970s invention, like disco. Almost equally dumb is the current practice by Penn students of referring to their school as "UPenn" to differentiate it from Penn State. We didn't feel that was necessary.