Stanford University has long been rated as one of America’s top academic institutions, and it’s been widely known for incubating top innovators in the domains of programming, engineering, medicine, and other sciences. In The Humane Economy, readers briefly meet Dr. Pat Brown, a Stanford biochemist who took a sabbatical from teaching to research ways to upend factory farming and find a different way to feed the masses. Ultimately Brown put his energy into launching a company he calls Impossible Foods, which is fabricating nutritious and sustainable alternatives to meat. Made entirely from plants, they have the taste and texture of the real thing. As I wrote in The Humane Economy, Google – always alert to businesses that will produce big changes in our society — reportedly tried to acquire the company for $300 million.
A short walk from the halls of the biochemistry department, another critical set of changes is at work on the Stanford campus. The dining halls there have undergone something of a makeover –not the buildings themselves, but the buffet lines. The university’s dining hall team is offering a whole array of foods that are delicious and exciting for students and other consumers, and that also reduce animal suffering and spare a good number of animals the miseries of both the factory farms and slaughter plant.
As executive director of Stanford Dining and a founder and joint leader of the Menus of Change University Research Collaborative, a group of 41 institutions brought together with the help of The Culinary Institute of America, Eric Montell is doing more than putting calories and good-tasting food in front of students and faculty. He’s creating a varying set of menus centered on healthy, more sustainable, and humane foods. That translates into more plant-based and fewer animal-based foods so that fewer animals are caught up in factory farms.
Stanford was also one of the first universities in the nation to switch to 100 percent cage-free eggs. But that was just a warm-up act. The school has reduced meat purchases and moved towards more plant-based options using a variety of strategies: by employing choice architecture (a technique used to guide guests to select healthy options by making them the easy choices); by marketing “performance foods” (a strategy to appeal to guests to lift their academic and sports performance); and by doing meat-mushroom blends to reduce the amount of meat being served.
Just last week, the Stanford dining team hosted Impossible Foods to give students a taste test of its barbecue, which tastes and even “bleeds” like meat, but is entirely plant-based, representing one of the first institutions in the world to offer these products.
Stanford is a trailblazer, but it’s not alone in recognizing the social and financial benefits of a more humane dining hall. I saw Aramark doing amazing things in the dining halls of Arizona State University, the nation’s largest public university, when I was there in March for a lecture. Students there can feast on plant-based options like Thai curry, “chicken” linguine, “beef” enchiladas, breakfast scrambles, blackened tofu with paella, and jalapeño “chicken” paninis at the Daily Root, a plant-based concept it created with the help of The HSUS to address student demand. In Ohio, Bowling Green State University offers vegan options daily at Shoots—a vegan station in its all-you-care- to-eat dining hall. Bowling Green’s management company, Compass Group, has taken a leadership role in food service by phasing out gestation crates, battery cages, and creating goals to add more plant-based options to its menus and tangibly reduce meat purchases.
Eating is one of the fundamental necessities in life. But with creative food makers and preparers, we can meet our daily needs in a variety of ways. Increasingly, we recognize that the choices we make have enormous consequences for our health and for the health of the planet and the well-being of animals. No longer do we have to sacrifice taste and quality when we eat in a morally conscious way. Stanford, Aramark, and Compass, among others, are showing us the way forward.
In the end, students and other consumers are affirming these choices. They can see, at last, that there is no conflict, but perfect consonance, between a full plate, a satisfied palate, and an intact planet.