Last year, Miami University made many noticeable changes to its dining halls and meal plan. Amidst larger cutbacks, like making pre-mixed stir fry options and completely dismantling everything besides the buffet on Maple Avenue, there were also many smaller changes that seemed to go unnoticed. Various foods were removed, the menu rotation was changed, etc. Among these smaller changes was the silent removal of croutons from every dining hall on campus. Croutons that I ate consistently. Croutons that I wanted back.
At first, it started as a joke. I decided to make a sarcastic remark in the Miami University Class of 2021’s Facebook page that, in summary, stated that we should demand croutons be returned to dining halls. I expected people to have a few laughs, maybe comment about how weird I was. However, what I did not expect was a HUGE amount of likes, comments, and genuine support for the idea. Within 24 hours, the post had close to 200 reactions and a comment section that was actively expressing support. Now, maybe I felt a responsibility to make these voices heard, or maybe I just don’t know when to stop. Either way, I decided to continue posting about the pressing issue of crouton removal in our dining halls, tagging each post with “#bringbackourcroutons”.
The majority of my posts were just sarcastic and meme based for some time, and while I was taking no action to actually get croutons back into dining halls, people were enjoying it. I was rising into Oxford fame as “The Crouton Guy”. I even gave out close to 100 stickers with a crouton logo I had created to supporters who wanted them. My posts had more likes than anyone else in the Facebook group, to the point where everyone in the group got notified whenever I posted because Facebook decided that I was what people wanted to see. Sure, this caused some people to resent me for giving them Facebook notifications all about croutons, but the support far outweighed the criticism. It even got to a point where friends were sending me screenshots of snapchat stories with people that I didn’t even know in them reacting to my posts.
Things changed when I was contacted by two representatives from our campus SGA (Student Government Association). They asked me questions about when I noticed croutons disappearing from dining halls, and if I could tell them what others had also been complaining about. It was at that moment that I realized that people had been using my posts as an outlet for their frustrations with the food on campus. Every post was riddled with comment after comment about things students wanted changed in dining halls and with the meal plan system in general. I had found a voice, and people wanted me to speak for them too. I was able to give SGA a decent length list of things that I saw most often in the comments of my posts. After some further conversation with both of them, they decided that they would bring up the lack of croutons in dining halls in an SGA meeting and vote on whether or not they should fight to bring them back. When the vote came around, the majority voted FOR the returning of croutons to be an official campus issue. This meant that a group of faculty members with master and doctorates degrees now had to try to find a solution to the lack of croutons. Needless to say, I was a bit shocked.
Shortly after, I was contacted by the The Miami Student. They set up an interview with me and I explained my story. How it started as a joke, how people showed surprisingly strong support and how SGA had now made it an official issue on campus. In the interview, I also discussed my long and quite sarcastic relationship with croutons and how I would get plates full of them at Golden Corral and dip them in ranch when I was growing up. The article was published and I didn’t think much of it. After all, most people had already heard about the story by now, and it was only a local student paper, who could possibly be reading that? I soon came to realize that people DO read The Miami Student, and that one of the people that reads the paper just happens to be the Senior Manager of Recipe Development at Golden Corral, who decided that she wanted to make sure I didn’t finish the end of my freshman year crouton-less. So, after emailing me and asking for my campus address, she sent me SIX POUNDS of Golden Corral croutons. The two bags were larger than sacks of potatoes.
At this point, I didn’t even care if croutons came back to dining halls. I was just so shocked that anything resulted from my sarcastic Facebook posts to begin with. Lucky for me though, when I returned to campus this semester, I was greeted with several photos from various people with croutons on their salads and congratulating me on my successful campaign. A few weeks into the semester, I have been asked to work with the dining hall heads on campus to revise the menus and ensure that students are getting the change they want. I have also since been asked by several people to run for office in SGA since I was able to make actual change happen. All because I was able to “#bringbackourcroutons”.
Looking back on all this, I’ve had some profound realizations about social media and how ideas can manifest into reality. However, one of the most important has been a better understanding on how to find a market and to get people to actually listen. As an entrepreneur who currently owns a small DJ-ing business and has had many side hustles in the past, this information is extremely useful. The only reason that students listened to me to begin with was because I was being light-hearted. I posted memes, made jokes, and wasn’t aggressive or over-extensive about my message. As the more serious late game of my campaign began, I continued this same tone, making sure I posted several things they wanted to see for every one thing I wanted them to see. I started with an issue that people could all agree on, or at least had no reason to oppose, and let the discussion evolve and grow from there and manifest into opportunity for larger change.
So, think about what you want others to care about. Your business? An event coming up? Social issues? Connect with people, convince them to care about what you as a person have to say, and THEN share your message. You might just end up with six pounds of exactly what you asked for.
Caleb Russell is a sophomore theatre and arts management co-major at Miami University. Although he does not typically write blog posts, he has written several plays, reviews, and short stories in the past. He is known on campus as “The Crouton Guy”, “The Succulent Guy”, and as “Russell Beats”, his DJ name he uses at his company’s gigs.