Meet Dickinson’s Meat
Think you’re green because you only drove to class twice last semester and you carry around that stupid reusable water bottle with you everywhere you go? If that’s the case, some not-so-breaking news regarding what you eat may come as a surprise.
Over the course of the 2011 academic year, Dickinson students, faculty, staff and visitors who ate at the Cafeteria, Union Station, Quarry, Underground and Biblio Café consumed some 180,000 pounds of meat and 20,000 pounds of seafood. That’s a lot of meat: About 0.37 pounds per student per day, to be exact. But wait, how is that related to sustainability? It turns out that the animals we eat are related to sustainability in many ways, among them greenhouse gas emissions. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN in 2006 estimated that livestock globally are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, compared to the only 13 percent caused by transportation worldwide, including cars, trucks, planes and trains.
Add to those greenhouse change (scientists at Cornell estimated that estimated that 1/3 of the world’s land area and 1/2 of US land is used to grow crops to feed to domestic animals), land degradation, water pollution, biodiversity loss and antibiotic resistance and the end result is a convincing argument that those interested in sustainability should be paying a little more attention to what they’re eating, specifically in terms of animals.
It is also worth mentioning briefly the argument about the treatment of animals and workers under the current industrial system. Take layer hens, for example. Layer hens produce all of the 391,000 eggs we ate in 2011. Assuming that the egg producers we buy from adhere to industry standards, each one of the 1,500 hens needed to produce those eggs was allotted 72 square inches to itself inside a cage for the entirety of its 18-month life. 72 inches is less than a standard sheet of paper. Chickens have it particularly bad, but the same kinds of standards unfortunately apply to the majority of livestock raised in the US.
On the topic of sustainability in what we eat, several other non-meat items should also be noted. First of these is milk. We consume 18,303 gallons of milk at Dickinson, all of which is sourced from Lancaster or Lebanon counties. Despite the fact that Dickinson sources all of its milk locally, conventional dairies have many of the same pollution and animal care issues that meat production farms have. By extension, cheese suffers many of the same problems (for those interested, we eat 241,000 slices of white American cheese at Dickinson per year).
Second on the list is soda. Dickinson College consumes slightly more soda per year than milk (19,710 gallons). The vast majority of that quantity comes from the Coca-Cola Corporation, which has been accused of multiple human rights (murder, in several cases) and environmental protection regulations in a dozen countries (see the college’s active Killer Coke campaign for more info).
Third are bananas. The egregious environmental impacts of banana and pineapple production are well documented and the same kind of worker rights violations Coca-Cola is guilty of can be applied to banana corporations in Central and South America. Dickinson consumes 98,000 of these seemingly innocuous yellow fruit per year. The funny thing is we don’t need bananas as an essential part of our diet; a small baked potato has the same amount of potassium as a banana.
The last is seafood. The global fishing industry suffers many of the same pollution problems as the livestock industry, with the unfortunate additions of bycatch issues, destruction of ocean ecosystems by practices like bottom trawling and the severe reduction in the numbers of many species due to overfishing. A good (percent) of the 20,000 pounds of seafood we consume in a year is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch “Avoid” list.
Dickinson is not unique in our eating patterns: The Census Bureau ranks the United States first in the world for consumption of both beef and broiler chickens, despite our disproportionately small population size. Indeed, the world per capita production of meat more than doubled from 1950 (38 pounds/person/year) to 2002 (86 pounds/person/year)- it is clear that we don’t need to eat as much meat as we do today. But Dickinson is unique in that we have incredible collective buying power, and if we wanted to change the way we ate due to the unsustainability of our consumption, we could. Dickinsonians with a staunch resolve to eat every meal in the Cafeteria have several options, should they wish to improve the system. One solution is to eat less meat. Because meat tends to be expensive relative to other produce items, eating less meat would free up more of Dining Services’ budget to purchase higher quality (i.e. locally, sustainably and humanely raised) animal products.
Another option is to be willing to pay more for one’s food. The budget at Dining Services comes entirely from Student Board fees. Dining Services is responsible only to students, and any major change in Dining Services would only come about through a voiced concern from the majority of students. The task of feeding 2000 people three times a day 222 days of the year is a huge hassle, and the Dining Services staff really deserves more of our appreciation than they currently receive. That being said, if we, as a student body, wish to have our cake and eat it too (eat the same amounts of meat and have it be ethically and sustainably raised), this would require a rise in board costs. Change, in this case, isn’t cheap, and it either requires a lifestyle change on the student’s part or a larger bill.
It is our responsibility as “engaged global citizens” to both understand the facts about our own food consumption and adjust our food consumption accordingly. As a school, we spend a lot of time writing papers about gender inequality or social stratification or what have you; why would we ignore injustices and inequalities just because they apply to the food we eat every day? The fact of the matter is the way we eat at Dickinson is neither environmentally nor socially sustainable, and it is entirely up to you, random Dickinsonian reading this article, to change that.