There is one thing that sets Princeton University apart from all the other institutions I have spent time at. Actually, there are two things, but I don’t think the presence of living squirrels and of other Beasts in all places imaginable merits too much attention right now. It is the irrational tendency on the part of my fellow students to go where the food is. Some would argue that this is nothing more than a reasonable expression of the hunger instinct. I beg to differ. In an environment of such culinary abundance, one can safely rule out any biological cause. Instead, what we are dealing with clearly has a social basis and is a most disturbing trend for reasons that will be elaborated upon later in this essay. In fact, the phenomenon of obsessively following, even stalking, the food has over the years become so widespread that it is now worthy of a grandiose name, such as foodalism.
Apparently, the specter of foodalism is haunting our campus much like other –isms have haunted Europe in the past. Sure thing, most of us (and the author is no exception) would prefer to be haunted by –asms but that’s a different matter altogether. This essay will highlight the scope of the issue, explore the social phenomenon from a game theoretical point of view, and offer some hope to sociology seniors who haven’t decided on their thesis topics yet. It will also fail to offer, or even mention, a formal definition of foodalism.
Much to the author’s dismay, there is hardly any aspect of the undergraduate social experience that has not been foodally affected. The term ‘study break’ has long lost its original meaning and, in the interest of truth and accuracy, should be substituted by the less graceful ‘food orgy.’ Food orgies have been widely used by student groups, RA’s (or RCA’s, or whatever they call them nowadays), residential college councils and suck-ups running for class officers alike to attract students to events, foster social interaction and, more often than not, to compensate for a lack of better ideas.
It will come as no surprise that the idea of facilitating social interaction by serving food is quite flawed. Residential college councils, for example, promote their food orgies as a way to meet new people and strike up interesting conversations with them. While this is an admirable ambition, incontrovertible empirical evidence indicates that foodal facilitation does not really work. And by incontrovertible empirical evidence I mean, of course, my own subjective experience. Unless there was somebody I had known previously standing next to me in the habitual 200-meter line, I never said a word to anyone and nor was I ever approached by anybody. As soon as I got my food, I looked around the room and, if I didn’t see anybody familiar, starting walking back to my room. Audaciously assuming that I am not too much of a misrepresentation of the average underclassman, there were dozens, if not hundreds, of people who made the same decision (and, needless to say, did not get to know any new people).
All of which leads me to ask: Why is it, then, that every week such vast crowds turn out to share in the cornucopia of delicacies, relatively speaking, that fill the Rocky Common Room? Worse still, why do I keep joining them? Is it out of pity for one of my (lovely) freshman year roommates who currently holds the unintentionally sexy position of a Member At Large in my college council? Probably not. Rather, it’s because I am as liable as you are to lapse into a sort of follow-the-herd-no-matter-what mentality and tend to do things simply because I see everybody else doing them. (It is such a shame, by the way.) This redundant story also illustrates how strong the forces of foodal attraction are. Not even their most powerful and outspoken critics can resist them.
More interestingly, the use of foodal incentives in advertising lends itself to a game theoretical analysis. We shall use the original example of the average event organizer from the average student organization. Suppose this specimen is a rational advertiser. In other words, she attempts to maximize student participation at the event. To keep the model reasonably simple, yet useful, we will ignore any ulterior motives that our hypothetical, perfectly rational specimen may wish to pursue – such as finding a romantic partner or two. Or three. In any case, the advertiser will see that all the posters that promote competing events promise free hoagies. She will then promise the same because she understands that, if she did not, fewer students would turn up, as they would be driven away by the prospect of filling their stomachs somewhere else. If we take this logic a little further, we will see that, in the long run, not only are we all dead but also that the effects of foodal advertising will disappear as various event organizers will eventually provide refreshments of comparable appeal. Just think of all the hoagies that are wasted in these futile advertising wars.
All in all, we have seen how pervasive the phenomenon of foodalism is on our campus. Although the above analysis is very rudimentary and further research may be necessary (by the way, this is where the sociology seniors come in), we already can draw some important conclusions. Foodalism represents a dangerous social trend essentially for three reasons. First of all, it distorts language and passes off food orgies as study breaks, creating a lot of unnecessary confusion. Secondly, it is often ineffectively used to foster class cohesion and social interaction. And thirdly, from a game theoretical perspective, foodal advertising has proved to be quite wasteful. Every year, too many hoagies are bought that fail to lure students into attending all kinds of events. The moral of the story is that you should think twice before joining that long line in the Rocky Common Room. You will feel better about yourself and the author of this article won’t have to wait for so long.