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University-wide picnics a great addition to campus life but require major improvements

By Christoph Meyer     10/19/11 7:00pm

You'd be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn't enjoy a good picnic. The idea of sitting outside and enjoying the nice weather, good company and a tasty meal has a particularly timeless and idyllic feel to it. These aspects of picnics and the bonding that they engender have led the university to pursue many of these events on various occasions throughout the year, from O-Week to Willy Week and other, more random times in between. While the intent is good and the idea behind the picnics is a great one, a growing number of students do not seem to enjoy the picnics as much as one would think. In fact, some students downright avoid them in favor of off-campus alternatives.

The university and organizers should give more thought to the quality of the food served, the timing and the environmental sustainability of these events in order to ensure more successful and better-attended picnics.

When hearing about a picnic, one of the first things that comes to students' minds is the quality of food, or rather, the lack thereof. While the servery staff across campus puts on a decent effort, the food is undeniably not as high in quality as what is served at a regular meal. The variety, taste and nutritional value of options often leave much to be desired, leading to many students dreading the idea of having to attend. While poorer food quality has recently resulted in a downward trend in attendance, past picnics have enjoyed much more success. Fajita barbecues or barbecue tailgates have been much more popular by comparison. It goes without saying that tasty food is a powerful motivator of college students. For example, when the GSA-SA research mixer offered delicious Thai food, students attended in droves. Barring a few exceptions, picnics simply do not measure up to normal servery meals, and students paying on-campus living expenses should and do expect better. At the very least, one campus servery should remain open on a picnic night to provide an alternative for those who do not wish to attend.

Successful picnics also nail the timing. Rice students are already notorious for not attending events during the week, requiring substantial incentives such as free food or giveaways. As such, planning a picnic during the week is not highly practical. While it's not always possible to work around weekday picnics, such as during Willy Week or Rice Day, Fridays and weekends tend to be better options. The typical Rice student would rather eat in the servery during the week, especially under heavy workloads or during midterms. Furthermore, the Houston climate can be downright inhospitable at times and it may prove a wise choice to schedule picnics when temperatures are more comfortable. When the weather improves during the "winter" months, people enjoy eating outside and are far more likely to attend outdoor events in cooler temperatures. The old saying seems to hold for picnics as well: There is a time and place for everything. Let's hope for cooler weather on Friday afternoons for future picnics.

Perhaps the most disappointing element of picnics — and simultaneously one of the largest areas for potential improvement — is their environmental impact. Admittedly, it would be impossible to hold a picnic with silverware, real dishes and glasses. However, Rice picnics are some of the most wasteful events I have ever witnessed: absolutely everything is disposable. While disposable items may not easily be circumvented, there ought at least be substantial effort to recycle plastics and collect organic wastes. Giving no consideration to where the hundreds of water bottles might end up is lazy, careless and downright hypocritical, considering all the green initiatives carried out on campus over the last few years. Picnics should be carried out in such a way that does not show absolute neglect for the environment and is in keeping with the high standards we at Rice set for ourselves.

In conclusion, Rice picnics provide a relaxed atmosphere for students and have the potential to be truly great moments on campus. All parties involved put in a great deal of effort in trying to make these enjoyable and successful and deserve to be acknowledged. However, many improvements can and should be made in order to make these events truly characteristic of Rice's culture and quality of life. It would be a true shame for them to be canceled due to poor attendance rates or environmental negligence.

Christoph Meyer is a Hanszen College senior.

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