Posted January 16, 2014 by Cooper Point Journal in Letters & Opinion

Burrito Breakdown

Faculty Submission by Tom Womeldorff

I’ve seen a lot at Evergreen since arriving as a sophomore transfer student in 1977 with the belief that there was a positive and causal relationship between late-night dorm behaviors and my learning.

I lived through the years of the cheap black beans and rice alternative in the Greenery; priced by the pound, a complete meal could be had for $1.36.

I was here in the years when salad was priced by the pound; I learned to appreciate spinach without dressing. In the years when salad was priced by the size of the plate, I learned engineering skills to widen the base of the smallest plate with beet and cucumber slices cemented in place with potato salad.

There were years when the deli sandwiches had a “certain aroma,”  I never did identify completely how one could tell it was a Greenery sandwich but it did have something to do with raw red onions and bread permeated by the liquids of the fixings like pickles and dissolving tomato slices.

There were years in which the serving sizes were wildly variable according to who was holding the serving spoon. When approaching the serving line with multiple servers, customers (not me, of course) would carefully maneuver to be served by the worker with the least anal retentive tendencies about corporate notions of serving size discipline.

Actually, there was an oscillating equilibrium of serving sizes that was a function of the experience of the server and the week of the quarter. Typically, needing social approbation from the customer, student servers would dish out larger and larger servings until management noticed and an employee meeting was called.

In general, from the long run equilibrium average serving size, the amount that ended up on the plate would slowly rise by 50 percent during the first three weeks of fall quarter, followed by a sharp decline to 80 percent of the long run average and then a slow rebound to the long run average. This was less predictable in winter and spring quarters when employee turnover increased the diversity of server time-on-the-job  compared to September.

A lot has changed over the last 36 years, which brings me to the topic of this letter: Burritos. I am a regular at the burrito line, at least four times a week: a small burrito with Mexican rice, pinto beans, chicken, no cheese or sour cream, lettuce, pico de gallo and salsa verde.

There are aspects of the burrito-serving experience that are impressive. They have managed to develop a culture of efficiency without sacrificing that familiarity and friendliness we strive for at Evergreen. They have figured out that moving customers through the line briskly does not mean they are less than fully committed socially conscious Greeners.

Their efficiency does not prevent them from developing a sense of familiarity with regular customers. For at least 30 seconds a day, I know I will be talking to someone who knows and cares about me. They know I don’t need a plate. They share my glee when my burrito card has 10 punches and the next one will be free. They know me. And somehow, it’s not creepy.

Gone are the days when one (not me, of course) carefully maneuvered for just the right server with a heavy hand. Portions are carefully standardized. In fact, just this year, they introduced a second set of spoons to standardize the portions of the smaller burritos.

The technique of building a burrito has been perfected. All items are spread lengthwise on the tortilla so that, if eaten with a knife and a fork from one end to the other, all items will appear in roughly the same proportions from the beginning to the end of the eating experience.

When eaten without a knife and fork, the large burritos are fat enough that it is nearly impossible to get beans, rice, cheese, meat and vegetables in one single bite. That’s the way a large burrito is supposed to be.

I do have one suggestion and it has to do with the smaller burritos. Like I stated previously, the portion sizes are carefully controlled. What is not controlled is whether the smaller burrito is fat and stubby or sleek and long.

Without resorting too much to names of three-dimensional objects, allow me to consider two possible spatial configurations for the smaller burrito. One (long and sleek) has the same length as a large burrito with a reduced diameter. The other (fat and stubby) has the same diameter as the large burrito but is shorter in length.

I would like to request that the shape be standardized so that the smaller burrito is long and sleek.  There is something aesthetically superior about this shape, particularly when wrapped in unwrinkled aluminum foil. Further, given the acumen of the servers in spreading ingredients evenly along the entire length of the burrito, one bite will always yield a mouth full of each ingredient in standard proportions. This is not the case with a fat and stubby small burrito.

This is a minor concern given the burrito crew is scoring 9.95s consistently. I know if I asked, they would customize the shape of my burrito every time. But something made me think this may be a concern shared by other members of our community and for that reason, I’m sharing it here.

Tom Womeldorff graduated from Evergreen in ‘87 with a B.A. and American
University with a Ph.D. in economics in
‘91. He currently teaches the program SelfDetermination in Latin America: Mexico,
and loves burritos. You can give him an
email at