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Students organize petition for more free−range meat at Tufts

Published: Monday, April 30, 2012

Updated: Monday, April 30, 2012 08:04



Students enrolled in the Environmental Justice and U.S. Literature class are petitioning Dining Services to introduce more free-range meat in the dining halls.

Students enrolled in the Environmental Justice and U.S. Literature class taught by English Professor Elizabeth Ammons last Thursday collected signatures in Dewick−MacPhie Dining Hall and outside Carmichael Hall for a petition asking that Tufts Dining Services offer more free−range meat options in the dining halls.

The petition, which is also available online at, asks Dining Services to dedicate 10 percent of its meat purchases in the 2013−2014 academic year to free−range and to incrementally increase meat purchases to 50 percent free−range by 2020.

Free−range meat is a farming method that allows livestock and domestic poultry to roam over a relatively large area. Non−free−range meat, despite being soaked in ammonia, has 20 times more E. coli bacteria than free−range meat, according to the petition. Additionally, the petition says that free−range meat is free of growth hormones and that free−range chickens are not raised in enclosed coops or forced to stand in feces.

The petition is aimed at raising awareness about the environmental and personal health benefits of eating free−range meat or not eating meat at all, according to senior Chelsea Ongaro, a member of the class.

“The industrial meat system isn’t very clean,” sophomore Kara Daniels, a member of the class, said. “People have died from E. coli outbreaks. It just really affects people.”

While acknowledging the additional costs associated with free−range meat, students in the class said the environmental and personal health benefits outweigh the extra cost. The petition also requests that the Tufts Administration and Finance Committee allocate more funds to Dining Services to help make up for the higher costs incurred by purchasing free−range meat.

The petition is part of a final project for the course based on a social action demonstration. Students enrolled in the course last spring successfully petitioned Hodgdon Good−to−Go to stop offering plastic bags.

“The goals for today are to get the word out,” Stephen Meno, a senior enrolled in the class, said at Thursday’s event. “A lot of people don’t think of meat as environmentally damaging as it is.”

The class decided to tackle the problem of free−range meat because it found this particular issue to be applicable to many students, according to Ongaro.

“Even just a small difference of meat that we buy would make a huge environmental impact,” Meno said.

In addition to the petition to introduce more free−range meat in the dining halls, students compiled an informational handout describing how environmentally damaging meat consumption is, as well as a pledge for people to give up meat once a week.

Most places claiming to be free−range only use 80 percent free−range meat, according to Ongaro. The goal of the petition is not to convert the dining halls to free range all at once but rather to begin a process of change, she said.

“It can be difficult, and we understand that,” Ongaro said. “And we know it’s expensive, but it’s important.”

The petition is broadly modeled after schools like Northeastern University and University of Massachusetts Amherst, which already use free−range meat, according to Meno.

The project is largely motivated by topics on food justice that students have learned about in class this semester. As part of its unit on the industrialized food system, the class watched “Food, Inc.,” a 2008 documentary film directed by Emmy Award−winning filmmaker Robert Kenner.

After watching the documentary, Ongaro now only buys free−range meat.

“They show you what mass−produced meat is like … essentially, it’s no longer food,” she said. “It’s definitely an eye−opening film and makes you feel awful about eating meat.”

Daniels enrolled in the class to learn about environmentalism through a non−scientific lens and shares many of Ongaro’s sentiments.

“The treatment of the animals was just really gross and shocking to see,” Daniels said. “It’s cool to do this and try and do more free−range at Tufts and try to change that system.”

Daniels said that every person in the class is aiming to collect 20 signatures. Before Thursday’s event, they had obtained 196 signatures total.

“Around 400 [signatures] would be nice to submit to Dining Services,” Ongaro said. “We’re hoping more people will come through.”

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