Harvard's Food Literacy Project part of the Local/Sustainable Movement

Robert Sondak
Spare Change News

A group of Harvard University staff members working in conjunction with students helped found a food project promoting food economics and health on campus and in the surrounding city of Cambridge.

The Food Literacy Project, which was founded in 2005, introduced four components of food economics and health to the university and the greater city of Cambridge. These four pillars of our American food system are sustainability, nutrition, community, and food preparation.

According to the Harvard University Hospitality Dining Services–Food Literacy Project website, food sustainability refers to a way of growing and raising food that is healthy for people and provides humane treatment of animals. The goal is to grow food locally and seasonally that cuts down on pollution and the use of chemicals.

The Harvard Hospitality and Dining Services (HUHDS) and the Food Literacy Project (FLP) have implemented a policy of food sustainability by managing two local farmers markets. These two farmers markets are located in Cambridge at the Science Center off of Kirkland Street (Tuesdays 12 to 6pm) and in Allston at the corner of North Harvard Avenue and Western Avenue, directly adjacent to the Harvard complex of offices (Fridays 3pm to 7pm). Each year, these farmers market are open from June through the last week in October.

Nutrition refers to consuming food to improve your health, memory and endurance, and to make you feel better. HUHDS has banned the use of trans fats, which are man-made fats used in processed food such as pastries, pizza, cake mixes, and fried or frozen foods. FLP does not use trans fats at all in any of its cooking classes.

HUHDS is instrumental in donating surplus food, approximately 8,000 pounds. This food is leftover cooked food from dining halls and special events, which goes directly to the Greater Boston Food Bank. This food is redistributed to local meals programs to feed the hungry. Emergency food program partners include St. Francis House, Shattuck Shelter, The New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans, Women’s Hope and the Women’s Lunch Place. This represents 6,000 meals yearly. HUHDS also provides surplus food to Cambridge-based programs at University Lutheran Church, Philips Brook House and St. James Summer Shelter and accounts for an additional 1,000 meals yearly. HUHDS also cooked 1,750 pies for the Pie In the Sky program at Community Servings in 2010.

The Culinary Challenge gives lectures that are part of the food preparation program at FLP, and sponsors cooking classes for students. This program covers a variety of culinary topics, ranging from kitchen knife skills to learning different styles of cooking, such as Mediterranean cuisine.

This year, the Food Literacy Project hired 20 student representatives for special projects. These representatives conduct tastings and provide movie screenings, cooking classes and field trips. This program focuses on teaching a food overview and sponsoring cooking classes for students.

Food Literacy Project members have also volunteered in Cambridge and sometimes in Boston. FLP people have worked over the past year in the Cambridge City Sprouts school garden program. The October 25, 2010 edition of the Harvard Crimson featured an article by Derrick Asiedu and James A. Weatherly, highlighting FLP staff who volunteered at the Graham and Parks Alternative Public School to prepare the school’s garden for the winter. In addition to working at City Sprouts, FLP members have also volunteered at the Boston Food Bank.

The Food Literacy Project sponsors special food-related events, such as cookbook authors speaking for Harvard and the Cambridge community. Events include food film series, book talks, and special cooking classes. On October 2010, Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini spoke at the Harvard Science Center about responsible consumption and sustainability, over- chemicalization, and the dangers of industrial farming.

In August of this year FLP sponsored a vegetarian meal and lecture by cookbook author Molly Katzen. Katzen conducted a lecture at Lehman House working with chef Martin Breslin, the director of operations for HUHDS. Katzen is the author of The Moosewood Cookbook. Later in the afternoon, she was serving up samples of a kale vegetable dish at the Harvard farmers market.

HUHDS buys locally grown produce and fruits in season from some of the vendors at the Harvard farmers market, especially Lanni Orchards of Lunenberg and Wards Berry’s Farms of Sharon. This food organization has a mission focusing on buying farm-fresh, meaning farmed in New England when possible. Preserving Massachusetts-based agriculture helps to fuel the local economy, provide jobs and benefit the environment.

The two HUHDS/FLP farmers markets sell locally grown produce, fruit, cheese, eggs, meat, fish, and food products. Local food products may include pasta, pastries, butter, nuts, flowers, jams, ice cream, honey, maple syrup, chocolate, and yogurt, along with Egyptian and Lebanese food. The 2011 Harvard farmers market in Cambridge features 21 vendors.
The Allston farmers market is half the size of its Cambridge sister.

For more information on the Food Literacy Project, go to http://www.dining.harvard.edu/flp/about.html. For more information on the Harvard-sponsored farmers markets, click on the Sustainability tab and then the link to the markets.

ROBERT SONDAK is a Spare Change News writer/vendor.

Robert Sondak is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.

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