1,400 call for cage-free

by Heidi Moeller / Beacon Staff • January 20, 2011

When alumnus David Colman-Hidy started asking students to petition for cage-free eggs in Emerson’s dining halls last October, he expected that, with enough support, the college would ban battery cage eggs by the start of the spring semester.

More than three months and 1,400 student signatures later, cafeteria cooks still default to battery cage eggs from factory farms that cramp hens into cages smaller than a sheet of letter-sized paper.

One day before Colman-Hidy was scheduled to meet with Aramark and submit the petition, he said the college deferred his appeal to boot battery cage eggs by offering cage-free eggs on request. Aramark then canceled the meeting, he said.

“What’s become so grievous is not the cage-free issue, it’s now more of an unresponsive administration,” said Colman-Hidy, who graduated with a degree in political communication last year. “It’s the fact that they are not responding to the overwhelming support and willingness of cost from students.”

Battery cage farms confine chickens to overcrowded cages that prevent them from nesting or spreading their wings, according to the Humane Society website. Factory farms that produce cage-free eggs raise the birds on open floor space.

Andrew Tiedemann, vice president of public affairs, said the college cannot negotiate terms with Aramark to stock exclusively cage-free eggs until their current contract expires in June. But he said 240 of the 1,800 eggs served to students between November and December were cage-free.

However, dismayed by the college’s heedless response, Chris Girard, a fellow 2010 alum, started a Facebook event last month titled “TELL EMERSON COLLEGE: respect student opinion and prevent animal cruelty!” The event had 69 members as of Wednesday night.

Girard, a former editor at the Beacon, said he spurred more than 100 alums to write, e-mail, and call institutional advancement, which oversees alumni donations, stating they will not donate money to the school until the dining hall is completely rid of battery cage eggs.

“It’s very important that the Emerson administration listen to students’ concerns,” Girard said. “I’m puzzled and disheartened that they haven’t taken a strong step.”

Tiedemann said he responded to each person who contacted institutional advancement, telling them the college has offered cage-free eggs upon request, and the administration is calculating the increase.

“There are contractual and financial considerations,” Tiedemann said in an interview. “We can not switch until the new academic year because of our contract, and we also have to figure out how much of an increase it would be to the meal plan.”

Colman-Hidy, who is the Boston Campaign Coordinator at The Humane League, has also worked with Bay State College to help them go cage-free.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer issue to me,” Colman-Hidy said. “It is criminal animal cruelty in seven states and anywhere in Europe. [Aramark] is missing the point.”

Chris Guinn, a senior journalism major, works for Aramark. He contributed to creating the petition and gathering student signatures. Although he has no longer been collecting student signatures, he said the support from the student body is still present.

“Students still keep asking when cage-free eggs will be in the dining hall,” Guinn said. “These students signed the petition because they wanted their voices to be heard. They are still passionate even though we are dealing with [the administration].”

The Student Government Association gave their full support for the cage-free egg initiative in a statement late last November.

“The Emerson College SGA expects this initiative to be honored in full no later than the beginning of March 2011, and to communicate with the student body regarding its progress toward those ends,” the statement read.

SGA Vice President Tau Zaman said he fully supports the alums’ initiatives.

“I think it’s great that we have alumni who care about the school enough to change things that don’t affect them anymore,” Zaman said. “I hope that undergraduates can find their own level of dissatisfaction and work towards justice.”

Zaman also said the fact that Emerson is bound to a contract with its food provider should not be the reason Emerson doesn’t change to cage-free eggs.

“Our contract can say any number of things, and the student body probably wasn’t involved in creating that contract,” Zaman said. “It’s [the college’s] responsibility to address it.”