On Feb. 7 and 8, Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) hosted a delegation of 20 guests from China in a cultural and culinary exchange called Food Forward, focused on sharing strategies and best practices for collegiate dining programs around nutritious and sustainable menus. During the two days, eight chefs and a dozen educators and advocates from China met with subject matter experts from Harvard, and toured and experienced several meals on campus, before joining Harvard’s culinary team in the kitchen to prepare a plant-based, traditional Chinese dinner for Harvard College first-years.

The Food Forward tour focused on the health and planetary benefits of plant-forward dining, and how universities can shape the dining future by educating young people. The tour, coordinated by the Good Food Fund and Yale University, included visits to Yale, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, University of Connecticut at Storrs, and the Culinary Institute of America.

“We are fortunate to be leaders, with other nearby colleagues, around changing perceptions about food for the betterment of our health and our planet,” said David Davidson, managing director for HUDS. “The meals we serve today will influence students for a lifetime, and if we can show that local sourcing, plant-based menus, and most importantly, deliciousness will yield a healthier life — and then share that with foodservice professionals from around the globe — it’s extraordinarily powerful.”

The guests began their visit to Harvard at the T. H. Chan School of Public Health with an overview of how campus dining at Harvard works, followed by a nutrition research update from Frank Hu, chair of the Department of Nutrition, and several doctoral students. The delegation then toured dining venues on campus before enjoying a dinner of classic New England fare, including sustainable, locally caught monkfish, prepared by HUDS’ Crimson Catering team.

The following day, following breakfast at Annenberg Dining Hall, featuring congee and vegan selections which complemented a more traditional American breakfast, the group split into two. The non-culinarians took an official, historic tour of Harvard Yard, visited the café at the Harvard Kennedy School, and met with Heather Henriksen and David Havelick of the Office for Sustainability to learn about the University’s centralized approach to driving sustainability, including the new food standards. The delegation also visited the Harvard Archives, hosted by Robin McElheny, where they explored documents related to Harvard’s early dining history, as well as its relationship with China.

Meanwhile, the eight chefs donned their “whites” and stepped into the kitchen with counterparts from HUDS to prepare a traditional Chinese dinner for 1,200 people (a scale none of the delegation had ever attempted). Using recipes by each of the Chinese chefs, they scaled up preparation to present a buffet meal, coinciding closely with Lunar New Year. In the kitchen, the culinarians had to navigate language barriers and experiences with scale production to make the meal work, but the result was a magnificent, mostly vegan menu.

“It just goes to show that food is a universal language,” said Davidson.

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