Student wins national award for cage-free egg work
Seth Grande honored by Humane Society of the United States for work on campusWhen Seth Grande realized Brandeis dining halls served battery-cage eggs, he saw an opportunity to put his education and ideals into action.
"I saw something wrong on campus, which is a community I feel really comfortable in, and I wanted to make a change," said Grande, a junior studying international and global studies.
Come September, dining services will serve only cage-free eggs, and Grande has been honored with the Humane Society of the United State's Student Leadership Award for his part in spurring the change.
The award, which was resurrected after a five-year break, recognizes students who have made tangible progress in reducing animal suffering and advancing animal welfare on their campuses in 2010. The honor was bestowed on four students across the country.
Grande said he's always had a strong interest in animal rights. As an intern at the Humane Society of the United States last summer, he learned how hens are often confined in these battery cages, where they live, on average, in 67 square inches of cage space - less space than a single sheet of letter-sized paper. He also learned more about recent bans on the practice in California, Michigan and perhaps soon, Massachusetts, where legislation is pending.
"There's all this momentum now toward giving factory farmed animals more freedom," Grande said. "I thought ‘Brandeis is a very progressive-minded school. This could really catch on here.'"
Thanks to previous campus campaigns, cage-free eggs had been available on campus, but not exclusively, most students weren't aware of the option, Grande said. With the student organization known as the Brandeis Real Food Coalition, Grande met with university administration and dining services, which is operated by food services company Aramark. Grande said they were hesitant about the increased cost, but were potentially open to the change. The catch? Grande had to demonstrate that students would be willing to pay approximately three times as much for cage-free eggs, according to Director of Dining Services Aaron Bennos.
As Grande learned when he helped coordinate such efforts during his internship, the next step was to create a petition. Approximately 1,200 undergraduates, or about one-third of the student body, signed their support. He also worked with the student union to create a resolution to ban battery-cage eggs, which unanimously passed. He co-wrote an op-ed in the The Justice outlining the cruelty hens endure as a result of battery cages and potential health risks for consumers, and urged the student body to support the change.
"We required Seth to prove that many students on campus would be willing to pay extra," Director of Dining Services Aaron Bennos said. "I give him a lot of credit. He brought in the facts, did his homework, found other schools that were doing it, went around and got petitions signed."
At the end of last semester, the university and dining services agreed to make the change for the Fall 2011 semester. It will cost students an additional $8 to $10 per semester, according to Bennos.
"It's a nice little example of grassroots activism at its finest," Grande said. "We didn't need club backing, no administrative money, no money from the school at all. I think it's really inspiring and hope there'll be more of this kind of activism." Josh Balk, a spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States, said Grande has been a "stand-up guy" who worked really closely with the campus community to help make this change.
"I think it's also important for us to thank Aramark on campus for their work with Seth in switching to cage-free eggs," Balk said. "Aramark, Seth, and the campus community really demonstrated how an entire university can come together."