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The Third Stop | Harvard's Food Journey

Harvard University, the prestigious school of many American presidents and Nobel price winners, turns out to be a foodie, too!


“During the Spring Festival of the Year of the Pig in 2019, a New Year menu - "Leads the Future", designed by Good Food Fund and seven chefs, was brought to join the Spring Festival dinner with five top universities in the United States that include Yale, Harvard, and the Culinary Institute of America, promoting the transnational exchanges of  sustainable diet. This was the first time that Chinese chefs toured the world's top universities.


This is the fourth chapter of the New Year Feast Tour: Harvard University.


The third stop of New Year Feast Trip came to the world-famous Harvard University. This time, Good Food Fund Delegations had unveiled the unknown but interesting stories between Harvard and food for the first time. Let's read ahead and uncover the secret together!


During the two-day staying at Harvard, Good Food Chefs and Harvard's culinary team jointly presented the "New Year Feast". The Good Food Delegation also had a conversation with professors from the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University and learned about the school ’s practical experience in promoting sustainable development.


Harvard and Nutrition Research

Note: T.H. Chen School of Public Health, Harvard University


On February 7, we first came to Harvard University T.H. Chen School of Public Health to talk with Professor Frank Hu, the head of the Department of Nutrition, and other researchers. The Department of Nutrition at Harvard University has had three deams and has a history of more than 70 years which is the longest among all American universities. Among them, Professor Walter Willett, the last department head, is the co-chair of this year's EAT-Lancet Report. The EAT-Lancet Commission proposed the world’s first food health standard at the beginning of this year. The release of this report is of historic significance. It is the first time that the world’s authoritative experts in nutrition formally advocated a healthy, sustainable diet.


Note: The EAT-Lancet Commission Summary Report


 "A huge dietary structural change is needed in order to realize a healthy diet transformation by 2050. This transformation includes more than doubling the consumption of healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts, while the global consumption of less healthy foods such as sugar and red meat reducing by more than half. The dietary structure rich in plant-based ingredients and less animal-based ingredients can not only improve health, but can also bring benefits to the environment. "

 ——Professor Walter Willett


 Note: T.H. Chen School of Public Health

 (Source: The EAT Lancet Commission Summary Report)


Professor Frank Hu, current head of the department, shared with us the efforts and experience of Harvard in encouraging students to have a sustainable diet. "We are not forcing anyone to have more plant-based diets, but we are working with the Department of Nutrition just to tell everyone about the health benefits of plant-based diets and their positive significance for the environment. We believe that Harvard students are smart enough to find that the truth is self-evident. In addition, Harvard dining service also provides cleaning services to reduce the use of disposable cups. The professor said that these initiatives are based on the most authoritative scientific research. "Of course, plant-based diets may not necessarily be healthy. We still need to pay attention to issues such as sugar control." When talking about reducing sugar intake, the professor mentioned that Mexico and California and other regions have begun to tax high-sugar drinks. He believes this is a win-win initiative.

"Of course, the right plant-based diets can be very healthy. The obesity rate in China has now reached 20%, while Japan has only 4% (because their diet is mostly plant-based diets and they exercise more). Worse, the obesity rate in the United States has reached a disastrous 40%. As we all know, obesity is associated with many diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, so it is one of the chronic diseases that humans cannot ignore. The professor agrees that plant-based diets can help improve obesity.

A latest research result shared by a Chinese researcher in the Department of Nutritional Science shows that in the ranking of the dietary quality of 190 countries and regions in the world, the United States ranks 94, while China ranks 130. Improving dietary quality is vital to human health. Simply changing the dietary structure to normal level  can reduce one-fourth of the world ’s deaths. Each year, about 6 million men and 5 million women worldwide lose their lives due to low-quality diets, which should not have happened.


Therefore, promoting a plant-based lifestyle is one of the most important ways to improve the health of individuals and the environment based on the most authoritative and scientific evidence.


Harvard and Sustainable Development


As the world's top university, Harvard University continues leading sustainable development. The Harvard Office for Sustainability is responsible for promoting Harvard's sustainable development work. Their first priority is to promote sustainable practices on campus; they also communicate with companies including Google on issues related to sustainability.


While promoting plant-based diets and formulating new  standards for food, they also pay attention to animal welfare. They hope to improve animal welfare by reducing the proportion of animal protein consumption.


Note: Harvard Office of Sustainable Development Experience


The members of the Good Food Delegation asked how many Harvard students had participated in the promotion process in Harvard's sustainability field. The Harvard Office of Sustainability told us, "in Harvard, the earliest promotion of sustainable development was actually proposed by students. Since 2000, Harvard students have been concerned about climate change, then they called for action. The Office of Sustainability was formally established in 2008 after principal noticed the students' appeal."


Besides, the manager of Harvard Dining also shared experience. He said that college students actually have very little knowledge about food, probably because they are used to eating outside. Therefore, the school has  taken some measures to change this situation:

1.         Let students know where the food comes from, such as visiting the farm;

2.        Teach students how to make a meal so that students can have real-life interaction with food;

3.       Create a culture of food. The ultimate goal is to let food do good for everyone, good for human beings, and good for the planet.


Note: Experience Sharing by Harvard Catering Department


Harvard and Food Archive

The next day, members of the delegation other than Good Food Chef visited the Harvard Archives and read the historical archives of Harvard dining. We must say that the staff at the Harvard Archives is very professional. As soon as they were informed of the arrival of Chinese Good Food Delegation, they immediately set out to find historical files related to food and China. When we arrived,  the staff has already prepared a dozen historical files in the room for us: the earliest documents of Harvard, the earliest hand-drawn drawings of the Harvard school badge, and some historical originals of Harvard catering, such as bills and tableware book, student feedback on food quality, etc. These records are so detailed that even one trivial thing such as a hair found in the coffee.


Note: Archives related to food and China


The porcelain plate in the picture above was purchased by principal at the time from the UK. Once a student accidentally brought the plate back to the dorm in order to steal the dessert on the plate. It was not until one hundred years later that his descendant discovered it and sent it back to the school.


The staff humbly stated that by providing us with these services, they also had the opportunity to learn about food-related history. At the same time, they also thanked the Harvard Catering Department for meticulously storing the important documents of the past years and handing them over to them in time. Perhaps, the relevant materials of this Chinese New Year Feast will also be collected into the Harvard file for future generations to refer to.


Harvard Food Tidbit

This visit allowed us to learn many interesting stories about food in Harvard history. It is hard to imagine that the famous school that gave birth to many American presidents and Nobel scientists is actually a foodie.


The Harvard Food and Beverage Department introduced the history to us.


It is said that the first president of Harvard was fired because the food he prepared for his students was awful.: When Harvard University was founded, there were only about 20 students, so they all lived in the principal's house. The principal was dismissed because the school food was too bad. From this point of view, even in the world's top prestigious schools, food is vital. At present,  83% of food that Harvard dining provides is plant-based. Student restaurants are full of promotional posts that encourages plant-based protein to replace animal based protein.


Another interesting thing about food:


Note: Mr. Harvard Sculpture


The famous sculpture of Mr. John Harvard on the Harvard campus is well-known. It is the third most photographed in the United States (the first is the Statue of Liberty and the second is Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial). Now his shoes are polished because the touch of tourists (it is regarded to bring good luck). The white house behind the sculpture is now the office building of the dean of Harvard College. It was originally a student dining hall, but more than a hundred years ago, students were kicked out of this building because they were fighting with food. Since then, It became an office building.


It seems that Harvard has a lot of funny stories related to food in history!


Good Food Feast at Harvard

While we were visiting the campus, seven Good Food chefs and colleagues from the Harvard Food and Beverage Department began to prepare for the New Year Feast for 1200 people (the largest one in this New Year Feast). Although Chinese and American chefs have language barriers, their have the same goal. "It shows that food has no borders, food is the language of the world. " said David Davidson, head of the Harvard Dining Department.


The New Year Feast was held at Harvard’s Annenberg Hall that evening.   The Annenberg Hall is as old and magnificent as the Hogwarts School. Our gourmet Chef also presented the largest Chinese catering feast in the history of Harvard for more than 300 years. After the dinner, many students responded the food were excellent, and even some students came to thank us and said (today is Friday) “It made my week.” This was the greatest praise of the Chinese food chef and traditional Chinese cuisine.


 Note: Our menu was hanging in the center of the Annenberg Hall, which well suited the dining hall.

 Note: Group photo with Vice President Harvard and Director of Catering

 Note: Master Chef Li Qun, a Good Food chef, is showing Hand-Pulled Noodles at Harvard.

 Note: Good Food chef and Harvard catering department's posters

 Note: Breakfast at Harvard: The artificial egg invested by Li Ka-shing. It tastes more like tofu.

 Note: Harvard's earliest file with the first hand-painted Harvard school badge

 Note: The top photo shows Harvard ’s first Chinese teacher, whose students are teachers who teach Latin



 Jian Yi