The Eat with Care blog
Writing on humane farming issues by Caroline Abels, founder of Humaneitarian.
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In 2005, a student at American University in Washington, D.C., posed a simple question to a manager at his dining hall. Are cage-free eggs served here?
The manager hadn’t heard of cage-free eggs, and Bon Appetit, the food service company that was running the dining hall, hadn’t either. But being deeply committed to sustainable food practices, Bon Appetit looked into how caged hens are raised in factory farms, and soon became the first American food service company to require that its chefs use only cage-free eggs.
Bon Appetit had already phased out the use of milk with rBGH, a growth hormone, in 2002, and had started requiring that all the fish it serves be on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s list of sustainably caught species.
Now Bon Appetit — which operates more than 400 sustainable cafeterias in private colleges and universities, museums and corporations around the country — is focusing like a laser beam on humanely raised meat. They’re encouraging the chefs at their on-site eateries to buy from small- and mid-sized livestock and poultry farms, and are requiring that the mid-sized farms be humane certified by an outside organization.
“Once you’ve seen the conditions that we as a society raise animals in, I don’t know how on a humane, or even human, level you can turn back,” Maisie Greenawalt, the company’s vice president of strategy, said in a recent interview with Humaneitarian.org.
At least 20% of the food that a chef buys for a Bon Appetit eatery must come from company-approved “Farm to Fork” producers. These are farms that operate on a much smaller scale than factory farms and within a certain distance of the café or dining hall. Recently, Bon Appetit began encouraging its chefs to buy from mid-sized poultry and livestock farms, too, in order to address the issue of “disappearing middle” – the fact that mid-sized farms are the most rapidly shrinking sector of American agriculture.
The mid-sized farms that Bon Appetit works with must be certified by Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane, Global Animal Partnership or Food Alliance, all of which you can read about here. (Asked why American Humane Certified isn’t used, Greenawalt said “we didn’t feel that their standards were high enough.”) Bon Appetit even encourages farms to seek humane certification. Their reasoning? Mid-sized farms tend to be farther away from the eateries, making farm visits by chefs less practical, and they’re of a size that might “tempt” them to adopt factory farm practices.
So here’s a major food service company for whom a large part of their mission is to source from humane farms. (Their CEO, Fedele Bauccio, was a member of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production; Greenawalt is on the board of Food Alliance; and Helene York, the director of strategic initiatives, is on the board of Humane Farm Animal Care, which runs the Certified Humane program.)
Greenawalt acknowledged in our interview that humanely raised meat can come at a higher price, but said the colleges, museums and corporations that hire Bon Appetit pay attention to the ethics of food. “Nobody hires us because they’re looking for the cheapest option.”
She also said more college students are asking their Bon Appetit-run dining halls for humanely raised meat, or meat from sustainable farms, though the requests are cyclical. (For example, a spike happened just after the release of the documentary “Food, Inc.”)
“By no means are we perfect,” Greenawalt said. “We’re still buying from a lot of large producers. But we’re happy to engage when people ask us about this. We’re thrilled when students ask questions.”
Let Humaneitarian.org know of any other food service companies that are striving to source meat from humane farms. Or, if you’re a student trying to get humanely raised meat into your college dining hall, tell us your story.