This semester, Harvard College students were greeted by a number of welcome changes to residential dining hall menus, including soymilk dispensers, ingredient listings for all dishes, and “less-meat Mondays,” a new initiative that will offer two vegetarian entrées on Mondays rather than one. Harvard University Dining Services should be applauded for responding so effectively to student demand: If the quickly-vanishing soymilk is any indicator, students are taking full advantage of the new options offered to them by HUDS. The recent dining hall changes not only meet student demand for a greater diversity of foods, but they also promote healthier and more sustainable eating habits.
It is no secret that animal-based foods, particularly meat, are substantially more harmful to the environment than plant-based foods. Animal-based foods require many times more resources per calorie to produce than plants, and the United Nations has noted that a global shift to a meat- and dairy-free diet will be necessary to mitigate the devastating impacts of climate change. A growing body of scientific research also suggests that meat-heavy diets are as nutritionally questionable as they are environmentally harmful. HUDS’ expanded vegetarian options and soymilk dispensers are thus not just beneficial to vegetarians. A reduced dependence on animal-based foods helps all students protect the Earth, eat more healthfully, and expand their palates.
New ingredient listings in dining halls provide students with important information about the food that they eat. While HUDS has long provided ingredients and nutrition facts on its website, locating ingredient lists right next to entrées will mean that students will be much more likely to read them before selecting a dish. Students who eat in dining halls often know little about how their food is prepared, and the new ingredient cards are an important step in making information about food and nutrition more transparent. All students should be entitled to accessible information about what they eat.
Also of note is that a number of students, including an unofficial student organization called the Sustainable Food Project, began conversations with HUDS in the last several years about the quality and sustainability of its food. While it is impossible for now to say whether student advocacy played a role in the recent dining hall changes, there is no doubt that these changes have come at a time when members of the Harvard community have expressed an increased interest in food quality and production. We applaud HUDS for taking note of that trend, and we hope that Dining Services continues to experiment with new, more sustainable, and good-tasting foods.