Taking Factory Farms Out of Higher Ed

An increasing number of institutions are joining consumers in seeking out food choices that align with their values.1 College students and dining service administrators alike want to make sure that the products being served in their cafeterias are produced sustainably and with concern for animal welfare. As a result, more and more schools are rethinking their food-buying policies and are making the decision to help change the way our nation eats and farms.

The University of California, Berkeley is leading a growing roster of schools that are tuned in to students’ preferences. According to Shawn LaPean, Executive Director of Cal Dining at UC Berkeley, “Our students’ desire for more transparency around the sourcing of meat was [UC Berkeley’s] primary motivation in pursuing higher-welfare animal products.”

As a school steeped in social justice and environmental awareness, it’s no surprise that UC Berkeley has adopted a food policy based on a program called “Principles of Healthy, Sustainable Menus” from Menus of Change.2 This innovative program provides unique guidance for the foodservice industry and brings together perspectives from nutritional and environmental science on optimal food choices and trends in consumer preferences. The Principles, created jointly by the Culinary Institute of America and the Harvard School of Public Health, recommend that institutional food buyers pay more attention to sourcing, animal welfare, and farming practices, and emphasize plant-based foods, whole foods, and healthy eating habits. Putting these Principles into practice, Cal Dining recently launched a plant-based menu at Brown’s Cafe, which serves the northwest part of campus. This conscientious eatery is dedicated to serving an entirely local, plant-based, and higher-welfare menu.

Thousands of miles away in the heart of the Midwest, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) is also creating a food policy and dining program focused on improved animal welfare and sustainability. In a recent conversation with Dawn Aubrey, Associate Director of Housing for Dining Services at UIUC, we asked what was behind their motivation to source higher-welfare animal products. Echoing what we heard from Cal Dining, Dawn told us that it’s simple: “Ethics, students’ values, and sustainability.” She also highlighted the importance of animal welfare in their Meat Sciences program, made famous by University of Illinois alumna Dr. Temple Grandin. UIUC’s goal is to transition to 100 percent higher-welfare animal proteins by 2025. In addition to this admirable objective, UIUC’s dining program has also committed to providing more plant-based food options.

Dawn mentioned that one of the difficulties she’s faced is finding reliable and consistent information on higher-welfare sources of poultry and seafood. This problem is all too common. While financial constraints are almost always a central challenge for institutions working to improve their food policies, a lack of information about where to find higher-welfare foods can be equally problematic.

To help address this problem, Farm Forward is working to provide information and resources to institutions that want to improve their food-buying policies. Our soon-to-be-launched BuyingPoultry will make sourcing higher-welfare poultry products easier for consumers and institutions alike. Here’s what UC Berkeley’s Shawn LaPean had to say about BuyingPoultry:

“BuyingPoultry provides answers to questions that institutional food buyers have been asking for years. With BuyingPoultry I can evaluate our suppliers, set goals for our institutional buying, and measure our success in delivering products that better match my university’s values regarding animal welfare. It’s a game changer.”

We agree, and we think Dawn and Shawn are game changers too!

Please consider making a donation today to help make BuyingPoultry a reality, and be sure and sign up so you’ll be the first to know when it launches!

Take Action Read Next

  1. Animal Welfare Institute, “Consumer Perceptions of Farm Animal Welfare,” accessed August 24, 2015, available here
  2. More information about these Principles is available here

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