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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Food Truth cries fowl over BonApp chicken

<ir="ltr">Food Truth, a student organization dedicated to creating sustainable food options, is working to bring more locally sourced chicken to the dining hall. Currently, the majority of Bon Appetit’s chicken comes from Tyson, a large national company.

“We are working on the Tyson campaign to educate the campus about chicken and Tyson as a company, basically reconnecting us with our food,” said Bex Klafter ’18, a Food Truth leader. According to Klafter, the campaign against Tyson chicken did not arise from a concern about animal rights, but rather from a concern about Tyson’s business practices, including treatment of workers, effect on climate change and political ties.

For instance, “meat is one of the sources of large carbon emissions,” she said. Switching to a local chicken source would reduce the College’s carbon footprint. Klafter’s worries about Tyson were echoed by fellow Food Truth member James Harren ’19. “Tyson, as a company, is very harmful to the environment,” said Harren.  

Katie McKenna, the Dining Services manager, said she strongly supports using locally based food products, but pointed out obstacles to using only locally produced chicken. According to McKenna, Carleton students “easily” eat 1000 pounds of chicken a week. Yet, the local chicken supplier, Mainstreet Market chicken, is relatively new and small. Less than a decade old, “they can maybe provide 200 pounds at a time,” which is nowhere near the amount needed for a campus craving late-night chicken fingers at Sayles.

In addition to the lack of local production capacity, McKenna stated that Mainstreet Market chicken is 70 cents more per pound. This may not seem like a lot, but when multiplied by a 1000 pounds, the price difference becomes significant. McKenna assured that Bon Appetit, as a large customer, pushes Tyson to meet higher standards for ethical and sustainable food production. “Tyson chicken, while they are not fabulous, they are the best of large chicken providers,” she said.

Despite the obstacles laid out by Bon Appetit, Food Truth remains optimistic about switching to local chicken. “A big part of the issue is that if they can’t see that no one wants sustainable chicken, they won’t do anything to change it,” said Klafter.

Grace Johnson ’18 created a campus survey that received 138 responses to gauge campus interest in locally sourced chicken and the student body’s willingness to eat less chicken, in order to offset the rising cost. She consulted with economics professor Aaron Swoboda, Food Truth and Bon Appetit to create the survey.

While the survey began with several questions attempting to understand the demographics of the respondent pool such as gender, amount of exercise and preferred amount of chicken per week, the most telling statistic came from the question, “Chicken breasts are served in the dining halls every day. If locally sourced chicken was served instead, would you be open to less-frequent chicken in the dining halls?” 72.4% said they would be willing, 21.3% said they would consider it depending on how much chicken was served and 6.3% said they would be unwilling.

The majority of those who answered “yes” or “maybe” answered a follow-up question regarding how many times a week they still desired chicken to be served. Over 50% wanted chicken 3-4 times a week. About 25 % were satisfied with chicken once or twice as week, but around 20% wanted chicken 5-6 times a week.

Looking at the survey results, Johnson stated, “I think the majority of students would support sustainably sourced chicken. Right now, the problem is that most students aren’t aware of where their chicken comes from. If they knew, however, I think they would care. It’s an issue that goes beyond food justice alone, because those who care about workers’ rights, the environment, and animal ethics also have a stake in the matter.”

To show interest in a switch from Tyson, Food Truth hopes to start a comment card campaign in addition to educating the campus more on the topic. One possible step Food Truth discussed involves labelling the chicken as Tyson chicken. “Like when they say ‘Ferndale market chicken’ or ‘Ferndale market soup,’ they should all say ‘Tyson chicken breast.’ As consumers, we should know,” said Harren.

For McKenna, however, labelling the Ferndale Market, the locally based turkey provider for Carleton, is not comparable to labelling Tyson chicken.  “Quite honestly, we are proud to be able to serve things like Ferndale Market. We are proud to serve the Mainstreet chicken. The Tyson, it’s not a sense of pride. I will not start labeling the chicken. I do label the local stuff, so that should be a telling tale right there. It’s not something that I want to brag about.”

According to McKenna, the best way to make lasting change in the menus is to “vote with your fork. If you are eating something or not eating something, we take notice.” She adds, “If you guys stopped eating chicken, I’d stop serving it. What comes first, the chicken or the egg?”

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