By Zoe Matthews
A couple weeks ago, BelFAST approved a proposal of over $2,000 for the members of Spiel to make free milkshakes every Monday night for the rest of the semester. The committee passed the proposal easily, effectively spending almost 1/7 of its budget on free dessert. I was particularly surprised to watch this unfold because, as an R.A., I have no ability to request money from ResLife this year for food of any kind. As many other R.A.s will attest, food is the best (and often only) way to bribe residents to come together and build community. Spiel’s situation is different, though, because anyone can get a milkshake and leave immediately upon receiving it– and most people do just that. Sure, some students stick around to play board games but usually these are the people who are already members of Spiel. The more common student will leave Milkshake Monday, finish his/her milkshake, and pick up a forty (or might already be intoxicated when he/she joins the line in Mauer link). Milkshake Mondays seem less an opportunity for students to congregate and have substance-free fun, and more an attempt by Spiel to ingratiate itself with students who might be made uncomfortable by the sub-free agenda. But I digress; my major concern is not that Milkshake Mondays are ineffective, but that they are by nature insidiously exclusive.
When over $2000 of Student Activities funds are appropriated to providing free food to students, one would hope that the food in question would be available to all students. While it is true that Milkshake Monday is “open to everyone”, it remains a biological fact that lactose cannot be digested by everyone– in fact 65% percent of the world’s adult population is lactose intolerant to some degree. The issue becomes even more problematic when ethnic and geographic differences are taken into account. While only 5-15% of Brits in the United Kingdom and 21% of white North Americans experience lactose intolerance in their lifetimes, the percentages are much higher for North American Latinos/as (51%), Africans (70-90%, African Americans are at about 75%), Indigenous peoples of North America (80-100%), and East Asians (90-100%). Although you’d be hard-pressed to find a resident of the United States unfamiliar with the phrase “Got Milk?”, the fact that we consume, especially into adulthood, the lactation of a different species is pretty weird from a biological perspective. Most mammals supply their young with milk until weaning, at which point the developing animal is able to sustain itself by ingesting plants or other animals. The ability of some human beings to digest lactose long after weaning arose from a legacy of pastoralism; way back in the evolutionary process, if human communities that herded cattle were hit by drought or other hardship, those who were able to digest the milk from cows under their care survived trying times that those without such an adaptation could not survive. As the story goes, those groups passed on the mutation enabling them to digest lactose into adulthood and, thus, significant numbers of Western white people have been able to take advantage of that ability.
Don’t get me wrong, I love milkshakes as much as the next person whose ancestors were probably cattle herders but the truth is, “Milkshake Monday is open to everyone” is an ethnocentric statement. At a school that takes such trouble to promote multiculturalism, with international students from forty different countries and a new curriculum focused on intercultural competance, one might expect Student Activities funding to go toward programming from which everyone benefit. So here’s my idea: if Spiel finds it necessary to provide the student body with tasty beverages, make them smoothies instead. Although they might lack the alliterative appeal of “Milkshake Mondays”, Smoothie Mondays would be enjoyed equally by all students, regardless of ethnic origin or dietary preference.