By Alli Welton
Hannah Borowsky hails from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She plans to concentrate in psychology with a possible secondary in global health.
Tell me about your background before Harvard, and how you first became interested in food.
I’ve always been really drawn to the idea that food is more than nutrients, that food is culture. I have really great memories of coming together around food, and I think that’s part of what influenced me. I’m not religious, but I love the cultural aspects of Judaism, and food is a big component of that culture.
In my senior year of high school, I had jaw surgery, and after the surgery, I couldn’t chew for 6 weeks. This totally changed what I could eat—I started planning out these elaborate soft meals, and thinking more and more about what I ate. After six weeks I could chew again, but I had a new relationship with food.
I had this desire to put the absolute healthiest possible food inside of my body. There was healthy food all around me, so it wasn’t that hard—but it’s not easy for so many people, because healthy food is either not available, or if it is available, it’s expensive. I got interested in issues related to food accessibility. We have a crisis in this country because so much of our population cannot choose to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
How did your interest in food change when you came to Harvard?
When I got to college, I found so many people interested in the environment. I knew the environment was important, but my knowledge was lacking. As I started learning more, I began caring about how food production affects the environment, and how growing things in an environmentally responsible way produces better and healthier food.
Another aspect about food that I was introduced to at Harvard relates to social justice. Who makes our food, and how are they treated? Do we pay them enough? Do we give them safe working conditions?
These three aspects—health, the environment, and social justice—all came together with the Sustainable Food Project, which is an awesome group started by Nai James. She has taught me so much about looking at food in a holistic, multifacited way.
What is the Sustainable Food Project?
The Sustainable Food Project is meant for anyone in the Harvard community who has an interest in anything food-related. The great thing about it is that we have people who are passionate about really different issues: animal rights, the environment, nutrition, labor, food quality, and so on. Everyone is working on different projects relating to food, both inside and out of Harvard’s community.
We’re working with HUDS to examine the food in our dining halls in this revolutionary way that goes beyond organic or local and takes issues of social justice into account, and to make the changes that matter most to students. If students want fair trade food, or if they’re really excited about local food, or maybe organic—we want to do that.
Can you tell me about your involvement with the Real Food Challenge?
The Real Food Challenge is a national organization, a network of college students around the country. The idea is that colleges/universities are huge food purchasers, and we can leverage the power of our institutions as purchasers to really change the food system.
“Real food” means food that nourishes the producer, the consumer, the community, and the earth. It’s a very multi-dimensional way of looking at food. There are specific criteria that can make a food purchase count as “real”, with all sorts of different certifications.
As a national organization, our goal is to shift $1 billion to real food purchases by 2020.
Why do you want to concentrate in Psychology? Why not ESPP, or History of Science, or another of the more common environmentalist majors?
I’m interested in the intersection between psychology and public health. I’m passionate about studying people and can eventually see myself getting into environmental issues by studying the psychology of changes—like, how do you get people to care about the environment? How do you get them to eat healthy? I want to gain an understanding of people and what motivates their behavior and use that knowledge to affect positive social change.
Probably a weird question, but just for fun, what’ s your favorite vegetable?
That’s not weird at all! I just can’t believe you’ll make me choose. My favorite casual vegetable—just for munching—is snap peas for sure. Snap peas with hummus. And for my favorite serious vegetable…portabella mushrooms. Roasted, probably.
You can check out Hannah’s blog at www.beetitsquashitspinacharound.wordpress.com to see more of Hannah’s thoughts on food, read her restaurant recommendations, and learn about food events in the Harvard community.