food literacy

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Louisa Denison, Food Literacy Project Coordinator with Harvard University Dining Services

Harvard University Dining Services serves just shy of 3 million meals a year in the residential program (2,993,329 meals in 2011, to be exact). We serve meals to a student body with a range of food preferences and backgrounds: of Harvard undergraduates, 9% are vegetarian, 4% have food allergies, 10% are international students. We have global food cuisine night on Friday nights, but we also source locally when we can; currently, 21% of the products we source are locally grown or made. Pizza and red spiced chicken are popular entrees, but so is the new fruit bar.

July produce from E.L. Silvia Farm, at the Farmers’ Market at Harvard 2012

July produce from E.L. Silvia Farm, at the Farmers’ Market at Harvard 2012

Harvard University Dining Services established the Food Literacy Project in 2004, with a mission to educate students about their food choices and continue the conversation around nutrition, sustainability, food preparation, and community. Given the variety of tastes and backgrounds of the student body…and given that the new food environment is full to bursting with terms like localorganicfair-tradeGMO-free… we at Dining Services see education as vital to the dining experience.

Since 2004, the Food Literacy Project has gotten the conversation going; FLP runs a farmers’ market on campus, employs a student in every house to serve as a Food Literacy Project Rep, organizes cooking classes with each house chef and guest chefs, and hosts innumerable talks, movie screenings, and tastings.

Keerthi Reddy, Cabot FLP, demonstrating how to make sushi

Keerthi Reddy, Cabot FLP, demonstrating how to make sushi

Some of our events are about awareness (what is “seitan?”), some are about education (“Will eating local help the environment? Is the age of cooking dead?”), and some are just about eating (truffle making).
Some students sign up for every cooking class we offer; others are out to change the food system. We try to offer a variety of ways for students to become engaged in the food system.

Coming up this fall, the Food Literacy Project will continue a series of informal dinner conversations in dining halls, often with a professor or local food activist, on current food topics. Bring your dinner and stay for as long as you like. We’ll also be educating on new HUDS’ sustainability initiatives, so stay tuned for talks and panels on sustainable seafood and eating less meat. Plus, more cooking classes, talks on how “the food system” affects Harvard, and a few foraging tours!

Barton Seaver teaching sustainable seafood cooking techniques at FLP cooking class, spring 2012

Barton Seaver teaching sustainable seafood cooking techniques at FLP cooking class, spring 2012

We’re interested in supporting and connecting food efforts on campus, so get in touch if you’re doing something related to food.

To stay on top of the Food Literacy Project, check out our blog ( and sign up for our weekly newsletter of Harvard food events by emailing

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Cultural Food Demonstration with FLP

One of the things I feared as I clicked the accept button to confirm my attendance at Harvard College was that I would be the odd one out at a school full of well-off families and ostentatious students. But I was happy to find that was not the case. Even from my first day upon meeting my roommate I realized students were just like me, from schools and backgrounds like me or diversely different in a great way.


My freshman roommate & best friend, Anita, & I [Harvard-Yale Football Game Day]

Even with the discussions of continental philosophy and solving problem sets (or, psets) over dinner, there’s a great diversity of opinion and culture. This week with the Food Literacy Project (FLP) with me and a few other house representatives put on an event with HPACE that celebrated cultural exchange. HPACE is the Harvard Program for American-Chinese Exchange and “aims to bring together top students from universities across China and Harvard students in a weeklong series of events and activities to promote mutual understanding between the students of both countries.”


FLP provided a typical American dish and how-to course, and HPACE did a dumpling demonstration. We ended up going with guacamole making both for ease and deliciousness but I was surprised to learn that avocados are rare in China—most students were loved to try the guacamole with chips, having never tasted avocado or tomato people except here in the U.S.

A How-To Guac’ Demonstration

The dumplings as well were equally delicious. One of my favorite things about food is the ability to bring diverse people together in conversation and to create a community. The event was about more than just food literacy, but cultural literacy and just fun. It took place at the Mather House Junior Common Room (JCR) and the people playing on the foosball table and piano provided a nice background against it all.


After the event I headed to Clover Food Labs in Harvard Square. Clover really wants to connect to the local community, including Harvard, and so I work a there for just a few two hour shifts a week. There’s always something going on in the square, which is great and yesterday was not exception. Clover was having a launch party for one of their new vendors, a common happening featuring samples and conversation that happens for example each time a new coffee roster is featured at the store. Even though Harvard’s embedded within the city of Boston, Cambridge often feels like an exciting home away from home where you see old acquaintances at these events.


Tonight my friends and I are doing dinner in Cambridge at Inman Square near Harvard to celebrate my boyfriends 22nd birthday. I’m looking forward to the social outing before locking myself in the room for the next two days (midterm on Monday). After that, freedom (until finals at least…). Until then, hope you all have a great weekend!




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