Environmental Affairs Committee ramps up meat reduction efforts

By Tony Sjodin

Students on a Monday afternoon get food in Atwater Dining. The Environmental Affairs Committee has been working with dining services since 2017 on sustainability efforts.

Meat reduction efforts have ramped up since last fall, when the Environmental Affairs Committee (EAC) began working with dining services on the cause.

On Tuesday, Nov. 19, the EAC hosted a food sustainability dinner in Atwater Dining Hall. The dinner was the first in an ongoing series of events meant to educate the study body on the meat reduction effort. 

“We know meat reduction has gotten a lot of negative feedback, so we’re focusing on education this year,” said Brenna Wilson ’20, director of the Dining Affairs Committee, at the dinner. The EAC is planning events for J-Term including speakers and several consecutive days of meatless lunches in Atwater to inform students about sustainable eating.

While attendees at Tuesday’s diner enjoyed carrots, beets and brussel sprouts from the Knoll, locally sourced tofu, vegan chocolate mousse, and more, leaders in dining service and food studies spoke about the efforts to reduce meat and increase local foods in dining halls.

Molly Anderson, a professor of food studies, touched on everything from the environmental impacts of meat production to the health impacts of consuming too much protein, specifically in the form of red meat, in her presentation. She concluded by offering students solutions, such as avoiding processed and red meat by seeking out grass-fed and local beef and lamb, and advocating for better wages and working conditions for people in meat-processing plants.

In 2017, SGA passed a bill proposed by EatReal mandating a 30% total reduction of meat consumption in the dining halls over three years, in 10% annual increments. Since the initiative began in 2018, the dining halls have reduced meat consumption by 9%. 

The EAC, co-directed by Raechel Zeller ’21 and Emma Clinton ’21, and the Dining Affairs Committee have been working on the project for the SGA since fall 2018.

As part of the efforts, Atwater Dining Hall shifted to Meatless Mondays last year, in which only vegetarian entrees are served during lunch. The following spring, the other two dining halls followed suit — with Ross serving meatless lunch on Wednesdays and Proctor on Fridays.

Many students have expressed their dismay with these changes, and voiced concerns about having access to enough meat protein sources, which the dining halls attempt to balance with vegetarian protein options. The dining halls also still serve deli meat on meatless days.

“I just think that the best change to make would be to reduce meat options on most days and not have a meatless day. I think having one meat option every day instead of two or three most days and zero on one,” said Tom Sacco ’20.5.

According to Atwater dining staff, having meatless Monday changes the flow of students into the dining hall on those days. 

“[Monday] is our slowest day by far,” said Ian Martin, commons chef of Atwater. “It’s a nice thing to say we need to reduce meat, but I think by and large the students are not on board.”

Atwater also only serves one meat protein entree per meal each day, unlike the other dining halls, which serve two.

“Typically we’re only serving one protein now, other than that, to be honest it doesn’t change much of anything because if you only run one meat, you just run a lot more of it because vegetarianism is a minority,” said Dean Bachard, a cook in Atwater Dining Hall. 

Despite vocal opposition, many students find the change helpful in trying to eat healthier or eating a vegetarian diet.  

Max Lucas ’21, a vegetarian, appreciates the efforts of the EAC and dining halls “because such efforts provide vegetarians, vegans and others with meat-based dietary restrictions the opportunity to eat meals that are not only healthier, but also much better tasting than before these changes were implemented.”

Thea Joseph ’22, a vegetarian who also tries to avoid dairy, would like to see more vegetarian days as well as vegan days. 

Wilson said that one problem her movement faces is the difficulty that comes with educating students about the purpose of meat reduction. 

“The biggest challenge is trying to convince people that we’re not trying to make them vegetarian or vegan,” she said. “Independent action doesn’t fix much, we need to make institutions change.”

Meat reduction also helps aid efforts by dining staff to purchase local foods. According to Martin, local meat can cost three or four times as much.

“The savings that dining services have made so far have been directed towards sourcing the meat that is served from local, more sustainable providers, such as chicken from Misty Knoll Farms in New Haven and ground beef from Meeting Place Pastures in Cornwall and Lewis Family Farms just across the lake in Essex, N.Y.,” Zeller said. 

Zeller explained that this allows Middlebury to support the local economy and consume products that are produced with environmental impacts in mind.

“Our philosophy in dining services is if that if we can get it locally, we do,” said Dan Detora, Executive Director of Food Services, during the Atwater Dinner Tuesday. “We do purchase a lot of local beef and chicken, as much as we possibly can.”

For Clinton, these efforts also address the issue of accessibility.

“We want to make the option to reduce the environmental impacts of personal dining habits to be as accessible as possible for the student body,” Clinton said. 

To design menus that would allow Atwater to be vegetarian for several days in a row this winter, the EAC has worked with Dining Services to possibly bring in chefs specializing in vegan and vegetarian cuisine that appeal to a wider segment of the student body. 

“We’re really aiming to not polarize people because I feel like people can shut down when food is being talked about because it’s a very personal thing, but we really want to empower people to be able to make healthy choices within the constraints of the dining hall,” said Essi Wunderman ’22, a member of the EAC. 

News Editor Nora Peachin ’21 contributed reporting for this article.