Dining Goes Cage-Free
UC Irvine now serves exclusively organic, cage-free eggs in almost all of its dining facilities, as of March 2008, as part of a larger effort to support the environment and to ensure student health.
According to UCI Hospitality and Dining Services Director Jack McManus, this latest development is part of an “overall sustainability program.”
The policy of using all-organic eggs does not extend to three locations: Wendy’s and Rice Garden in the Student Center and Café Espresso, due to separate contracts.
As for prices on foods containing eggs, McManus said that “no one’s raised [them].” However, he explained that prices are subject to comparisons with both the nationally based Consumer Price Index as well as “local market prices.”
Student reactions to the move have been varied. Some students, like second-year literary journalism major Ashley Soo, lauded the move, but suggested that more food served at UCI should go in the same direction.
“Making sure that all the eggs are organic is definitely a step in the right direction, but what about milk or vegetables? I eat those far more than I eat eggs,” Soo said.
Bita Cyrus, a fourth-year biological sciences major, pointed to larger problems tied to the issue of “green” food itself, and how UCI’s recent green effort does little to improve things.
“[It’s] good that [UCI] went for organic, but [the term] ‘cage-free’ in the U.S. means absolutely nothing,” Cyrus said. “There are no regulations when it comes to stamping eggs as cage-free in the United States.”
Several students also pointed out the benefits of genetically modified and non-organic food, like increased hardiness and lower costs.
Nonetheless, for the people most active in this effort, the switch to all-organic eggs represents both a huge success and a step toward a more environmentally friendly school, not to mention an indication of the power of student activism.
For Claire Jean Kim, an associate professor in political science and Asian-American studies, the switch was the culmination of two years of effort. In February 2006, she and former UCI student Jason Williams approached McManus about using eggs from cage-free sources, rather than traditional ones.
But as the months passed and no progress was made, Kim and other supporters became more active, holding protests and various other events. In the spring of 2007, the Associated Graduate Students passed the UCI Cage-Free Initiative, which encouraged UCI to buy its eggs from sources that did not treat its chickens with conventional methods (described as “cruel and inhumane” in the AGS’s resolution).
In addition, the graduate student body collected over 3,500 student signatures from the general student population in support of the switch.
During the Winter 2007 quarter the activists launched an ad campaign in the New University, and Kim met with McManus again. This time, progress was made, and it was decided that eggs that were organic as well as cage-free would be used.
“UCI did the right thing,” Kim said. “Although [the administration] took time … they did well in the end [and] went above and beyond what we asked for.” Kim added that the movement “reduced animal cruelty, and [gave students] a sense of empowerment.”
Students who participated in the movement shared Kim’s views. Francesca Resch, an arts peer academic advisor, board member for the Alpha Phi Fraternity and long-time member of the cage-free eggs campaign said, “[I] am so excited that our campus is making this foreword stride towards an empathetic feeling for animals. I hope that people can see what a progressive move this is for our school, whether or not they believe in animal rights, and will at least appreciate the fact that we are able to make a difference in whatever way we can.”
Rebecca Wang, a former UCI student who claims to have “worked on the initiative for over a year,” spoke on a similar note about the development.
“It makes me feel proud to be part of a university that listens to the concerns of its students,” Wang said.
Grace Chung contributed to this report.