(Photo courtesy of Farm Forward) “The official Farm Forward logo.”
UMass Lowell has always prided itself on its sustainability, particularly in its dining options, proudly labeling dishes as “plant-forward”: vegan, vegetarian, or halal. As a vegetarian, I have found myself satisfied with the selections offered. That said, UMass Lowell can do more to promote the sustainable and ethical consumption of meat regarding its meal offerings. UMass Lowell is currently under contract with several unethical and unsustainable factory-farming meat providers. Fortunately, there are nonprofit organizations specifically tasked with rectifying this type of issue.
It is the proposal of various members of the university community that UMass Lowell partners with the Farm Forward Leadership Circle to ensure that the meat served at UMass Lowell’s dining halls is as ethically and sustainably sourced as possible. Farm Forward is a nonprofit organization committed to furthering practices of sustainable meat production and consumption by leveraging the buying power of universities and other businesses to pressure agricultural corporations into more sustainable practices. They are a highly respected institution, with a grade of 97% in finance and accountability, assigned to them by Charity Navigator, one of the oldest and most trusted charity appraisers. They also receive high praise from their other partners, among whom number many prestigious colleges and universities, including:
David Havelick from the Office for Sustainability at Harvard University said “the Leadership Circle provided Harvard with key insights and guidance that helped us create the animal welfare part of our Sustainable Healthful Food Standards. We’re excited to continue working with them as they provide support for our foodservice vendors and help us track progress over time.”
Chef Amy Reed from Phipps Conservatory at UC Berkeley “the Leadership Circle supports Cal Dining’s ongoing effort to purchase healthy, more humane, and sustainable food and we’re proud to be a founding member.”
Many other large and prestigious businesses and educational institutions also give high praise. Showing that Farm Forward has at least the credentials of an excellent organization, receiving a glowing recommendation from every entity one would consult to discern the effectiveness of a nonprofit.
Partnering with Farm Forward would be a major step towards ensuring sustainability and ethical treatment of animals is practiced not only by UMass Lowell but by the meat industry at large. Practices like growing chickens in cages so small that they are unable to move in warehouses where they are entirely deprived of sunlight, as well as numerous other inhumane practices, can be one step closer to being outdated.
Farm Forward presents a “less and better” policy for promoting sustainability. This makes sense because reduced consumption, both of meat and in general, is constantly the simplest and most effective method of promoting sustainability. Production necessarily requires both the consumption of the earth’s natural resources
and the production of waste, usually in the form of greenhouse gases, plastic waste, nitrogen fertilizer runoff, and other pollutants. The costs of meat farming, particularly in the US, are notably egregious, with 14.5% of all greenhouse gasses being produced as a direct result of meat farming and 57% of emissions caused by agriculture being emitted to produce beef pork and other forms of meat. This excess is notable considering that plants grown for human consumption constitute just over 20% of agricultural emissions; the rest result from the cultivation of non-foodstuffs like cotton and rubber. While part of the incredible quantity of emissions produced by the meat industry (7.1 Gigatons worldwide per year) is caused by inefficiencies and a lack of commitment to sustainability, most of it is caused by the inherent inefficiency of livestock. Livestock, by necessity, needs to consume many times their mass in plant matter to grow to maturity. Producing that feed causes significant emissions, as does the animal itself growing. In recognition of this, one of the standard requisites to partner with Farming Forward is a commitment to reduce meat consumption by 20%.
For some students, a 20% reduction in available meat may feel like a major drawback of this proposal. That said, meat will still be readily available at all meal halls and considering the quality of the plant-forward and vegetarian options that UMass Lowell already offers, such as pizza, eggs, waffles, pasta, various soups, salads, and meat substitutes, I trust that students will have little trouble finding foods suited to their tastes.