The five-cent fork policy needs to go

For over eight years, the Burlingame High School cafeteria has been charging students who do not purchase anything 5 cents for utensils. While it may seem insignificant, that 5 cents can ultimately determine whether a student eats a lunch, or is forced to endure three periods of testing and lecturing on an empty stomach.

Any amount is too much to pay for utensils that should be free.

Any amount is too much to pay for utensils that should be free.

Since its inception, the five-cent policy has been irking students.

“I forget to put a fork in my lunch, and I go over to the cafeteria and they just say no,”  junior Declan Parker said, describing a typical lunchtime situation. “It costs a nickel. I never have a nickel, so I can’t eat my lunch.”

Some will argue that there is little to complain about, as a nickel is worth practically nothing in this day and age.

“It is literally 5 cents,” sophomore Rick Maldonado said. “It doesn’t matter. Anyone can pay 5 cents.”

The problem, however, is not that the 5 cents is some kind of exorbitant fee that only the wealthy can afford. The problem is that there is often no way for students to pay the 5 cents when they need to, and that the principles behind the five-cent policy are borderline absurd.

Most students who forget to pack utensils in their lunches seldom buy food from the cafeteria, and therefore rarely have money in their accounts. That, coupled with the fact that almost no one ever has a nickel on them, can make having to pay 5 cents for a fork or spoon problematic.

Why then, does the cafeteria insist upon charging students for utensils?

Vicki Ottoboni, who has been in charge of the BHS cafeteria for three and a half years, says that the rule is in place because “Forks cost money, just like anything else.”

Though Ottoboni is not the one who came with the idea to charge for utensils, she raises a valid point. If the cafeteria were to give away utensils for free, it would be losing money. But how much?

On Amazon, one can purchase a pack of 1,000 plastic forks for $16.82. That comes out to approximately 1.7 cents per fork - far less than the 5 cents charged by the cafeteria. Given that the forks sold by the cafeteria, though adequate, are not exactly robust, and that the cafeteria likely purchases its forks in massive bulk quantities, it is not unreasonable to assume that it is paying far less than one cent per fork.

According to Ottoboni, at least 25 students per day who do not buy anything ask for utensils. If the cafeteria were to give away an average of 35 utensils per day for free, it would be losing about $63 per year, and that is assuming that each utensil costs 1 cent, which is almost certainly an overestimate. $63 spread out over an entire year is virtually nothing. By contrast, if the cafeteria were to sell 35 forks per day for 5 cents each, it would actually be profiting around $252 per year.

There is no logical way to justify the five-cent policy’s existence. Attempting to do so would imply that it is okay for $63 to come at the expense of potentially hundreds of students not being able to eat lunches. Until the five-cent policy is abolished, lunches will continue to go uneaten and students will continue to be forced to function on empty stomachs.

Posted on October 26, 2017 .