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Nutella-gate! Columbia students swipe pounds of popular spread from cafeteria

Friday, March 8, 2013 - 9:50am

When students trade their high school diplomas for college dorm rooms, friends and family wish them luck and tell them to enjoy their new-found freedom by "going nuts." But while most students blow off steam by partying until the wee hours of the morning, some students at Columbia University seem to have taken the "go nuts" advice a little too literally.

According to the Columbia Spectator, the Ivy League institution introduced Nutella to its campus dining halls last month, hoping to give its students a taste of luxury living (because living on the Upper West Side of New York City is clearly "roughing it").

To the administration's surprise, students' demand for Nutella quickly exploded to the tune of 100 pounds consumed per day. But consuming the "breakfast food" in the dining room wasn't enough for some of the sticky-fingered undergrads, who ultimately decided to abscond with the buttery, chocolatey, hazelnut spread by the jar.

The Nutella news broke when Spectator student life reporter Cecilia Reyes published a story after being passed along a Facebook page where one student council representative posted a message regarding the high volume of Nutella disappearing from the dining halls. Council representative Peter Bailinson explained his post to Reyes, saying that Executive Director of Dining Vicki Dunn had told him that Nutella consumption was reaching 100 pounds per day since it first debuted in the cafeteria.

According to a New York Times article, other Facebook members put their thinking caps on to work out the total cost of 100 pounds of Nutella, coming up with $5,000 per week.

"'They took the 100 pounds and used it as a hard fact' in doing math on the Facebook page," Bailinson told the Times. "I quickly commented, 'More than 100 pounds was a rough guess, I don't have the hard figures.'"

Reyes told CNN she reached out to Dunn for comment, but was unable to reach the dining director regarding the pricy crepe filling. "I was told their policy is not to comment on numbers from dining," she said in a phone interview with CNN. "But they would neither confirm nor deny the $5,000."

CNN obtained a tongue-in-cheek e-mail exchange between Assistant Vice President of Media Relations Robert Hornsby and Columbia University officials denying press reports claiming that campus dining halls were "running rivers of nut-brown ink to the tune of $5,000 per week in allegedly pilfered Nutella."

"It is true that in the first 3-4 days after Nutella was recently added to the dining hall selections, demand was indeed extraordinarily high, with students enjoying a large amount in that initial short period," Hornsby wrote in the e-mail. "However, the actual cost was only about $2,500, and quickly went down to $450 per week for dining halls that serve some 3,600 students, seven days a week at three locations."

"Ironically the media attention to Nutella-gate has cut down on the amount people have been taking in recent days," Hornsby added.

According to the Dining Advisory Committee minutes from the Columbia College Student Council's website, thefts from the dining halls are not limited to just Nutella.

"Dining spends $50,000 a year replacing things like plates, silverware and Sriracha sauce!" said the website. "This is money that could be spent on new products like Speculoos, and keeping products like Jamba Juice around for years to come.

Now while I have no idea what a "speculoos" is (Editor's note: it's essentially a spiced cookie or a cookie spread, and you're totally missing out), I do know that it was a rite of passage in my day for college students to "liberate" food from the cafeteria -- from Lucky Charms to chocolate chip cookies, anything you could fit in a white Styrofoam coffee cup was fair game. But when did it become socially acceptable to steal entire cans or jars of food?

Turns out, there are entire articles devoted to stealing from dining halls -- from sneaking out five gallon bags of soy milk to rice that can last all week long. And in case you need a play-by-play on how to steal, here's a hint: don't get caught.

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