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Ivy Chang '10: PassiveAggressiveColumns.com

Let's say it's just another one of those nights. Every cup from the 12-pack of ramen you bought at the beginning of the semester has become steadily more unappetizing. But you have few other options. Nutella straight from the jar? Stale chips? You schlump downstairs to the communal kitchen to heat up some water.

Upon opening the fridge to get water, you spy a plate of cupcakes, just chillin' there under Saran wrap. Your stomach responds excitedly. If only you had the time to bake.

With midterms consuming every last second of your life, you've had no time to treat yourself this week. You've suffered enough. There are, like, 20 cupcakes on that tray, just taking up space and squishing everyone else's food in the fridge. It couldn't hurt to just take one, albeit without asking. No one would know it was you, anyway, if you were quick enough!

So, what do you do? Steal a cupcake or turn back to your cup of cardboard strips and sodium?

Hopefully, you chose to stick to your own food.

Having kitchens is great. They provide nice opportunities for supplementing a rather monotonous diet of hot ham on bulky rolls, spicy withs and Odwalla bars.

In an ideal world, everyone would be conscientious and respectful of other people's property. Perhaps an even more ideal world would include a private kitchen space for every student. However, reality is harsh, and most underclassmen don't have the choice of living off campus or in dorms with such amenities.

They are pretty much forced to give others the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their personal food items and the maintenance of the communal space.

Leaving dirty dishes out and moldy food in the fridge is pretty gross, but such issues are always resolved in due time. Dishes get washed because they need to be reused and moldy food gets thrown out when it starts looking like a miniature ecosystem.

Deliberate thieving of other people's food items, however, is inexcusable. It ruins the community spirit. It's hard to live in a place where you can't even trust your neighbors.

A friend of mine once left a large bowl of raw chocolate cake batter in a dorm kitchen for a few minutes, only to return later to discover it scraped completely clean. Another friend's leftover pizza would almost always mysteriously vanish, even when labeled with his name. And it wasn't too uncommon to hear of people sneaking bites from birthday cakes in the fridge that weren't theirs. 

In my Grad Center tower last year, things escalated beyond the usual utensil- and
cooking- pot thefts. People would lose food during unexplained — possibly passive aggressive — cleaning sessions that swept fridges and shelves nearly bare. Someone briefly "borrowed" a kitchen microwave.

The CAs ended up having to send out a rather embarrassing mass e-mail telling us many things that we already should have known.

Thefts aren't limited to dorms. A recent posting on PassiveAggressiveNotes.com, in which a victim of cream cheese theft admonishes the "community" for behaving in such a manner, actually comes from the Computer Science department here at Brown.

These could be isolated cases, but, no matter how far or few, they contribute to general feelings of anger, distrust and misanthropy.

The shield of anonymity provided by a communal kitchen is nigh impenetrable. This is what gives it the potential to become a breeding ground for food theft and other misdeeds. With so many people living in one building, it's hard for even roommates to realize that one of their own is the perpetrator of the infamous organic hummus theft of the week.                        

Anonymity is a sly sort of demon. Arthur Beaman and Bonnel Klentz's oft-cited field study shows that even cute little trick-or-treating children aren't safe from its pervasive influence. Masked children are more likely to defy instructions limiting the amount of candy they take, as opposed to children whose identities are made more obvious.

With proper cooperation and respect, communal kitchens live up to their nice-sounding name. They foster "communities" and become nice spaces for sharing ingredients, learning new recipes from fellow residents and holding impromptu gatherings that revolve around tasty food.

The urge to sample food that isn't yours gets the best of us. At the same time, it's so easy to just step back and remember to respect other people's property, regardless of whether or not they're present. 

If you're really that starved for something new, put up a Facebook status about it. Seriously. You're sure to get a few responses offering snacks.

People are usually generous and understanding, as long as their stuff isn't being stolen. 



Ivy Chang '10 was a naïve sophomore when she lost those cupcakes, but she still cries about them sometimes. She can be reached at ivy_chang (at) brown.edu.

 




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