Student Protest Squashes Grape Return to HDS

* Final decision will be made after a dining hall poll

In response to overwhelming student feedback, Harvard Dining Services (HDS) has decided to postpone serving grapes in the dining halls until at least November 21, when students will vote on whether they want them served regularly.

Grapes, which have not been served in the dining halls since 1992 as part of a boycott sponsored by Cesar Chavez's United Farm Workers, were scheduled to be served at Sunday brunch this week.

But a flood of comments from students--in the form of feedback cards, e-mails, telephone calls and letters--caused HDS to reconsider their decision.

"Nothing like this has ever come up," said HDS Project Manager Alexandra E. McNitt.

Although the responses have been both for and against serving grapes, HDS has decided to put the issue to a vote.

"What's important to us is that we're responsive to our customers, in this case the students in the dining halls," McNitt said.

McNitt said that it is important to allow students to decide for themselves.

"We don't have an opinion on the issue, so we're going to let the students decide what's best for them," she added.

HDS originally stopped serving grapes in response to student concern about the United Farm Workers boycott on almost all California grapes, a boycott which has not officially ended.

Many students, including members of the activist group UNITE, are against buying grapes because of the poor conditions under which grape workers are forced to labor, according to UNITE board members.

Executive Chef Michael Miller said HDS receives grapes from its produce distributor, Costa Fruit and Produce, which is buying grapes from Corrin Farms in California.

Costa Fruit and Produce declined to comment on the status of the grape farms that provide their produce.

Starting the week of November 17, HDS will have a table in every dining hall with literature on the grape boycott for students to read. There will be information for both sides of the debate, McNitt said.

After reading the information, students will vote in the dining halls on November 21.

McNitt said that the feedback she received indicated that many students do not completely understand the issue.

"Hopefully the tabling will allow the students to make an informed voting decision," McNitt said. "We're actually excited about the prospect of educating people on this issue."

Many students said they are glad to learn that HDS is considering their views.

"I don't know what the conditions are, but I think it's great that they're asking for student opinion," said Rita F. Lin '00. "Harvard rarely does that."

"I'm glad that they're asking for our opinions," said Jennifer L. Diebel '00. "Grapes aren't a big deal to me, but if it means that other people are going to get just treatment, then I don't mind not eating them. There's other things to eat.