Immediately after finishing the book "Eating Animals," incoming Duke freshman Andrew Hall drove to an organic food stand near his
Charlotte home and ate his first veggie burger.
Then he decided to become a vegetarian for one week, "an
experiment," he says, "to test whether being a vegetarian is a valid option in
my life. Not only was it not hard to switch over to a vegetarian diet, I found
myself exploring exciting dietary options."
"Before reading this book, I was highly suspicious of the
possibility of a vegetarian diet," says Hall, 18. "Now I know that a vegetarian
diet is not only possible, but also could be more beneficial -- to the
environment and one's health -- than an omnivorous diet."
"Eating Animals," the summer
reading selection for first-year students, offers a detailed look at how an
animal on a farm winds up being a steak on a plate. Duke Dining expects
Jonathan Foer's book will prompt some first-year students like Hall to adopt a
vegetarian or vegan diet, but they have no way of knowing how many will make
the switch. Nonetheless, they plan on offering more vegetarian and vegan
options this year in the Marketplace, the East Campus eatery frequented by
Currently, less than 10 percent
of Duke students refrain from eating meat, says Rick Johnson, head of housing
and dining at Duke. Johnson not only expects those numbers to climb, but anticipates
students will scrutinize where Duke suppliers purchase their beef, and how the
animals are raised and slaughtered.
"We do buy local and we buy from
people who raise animals humanely, but not in the quantities needed to feed
everyone. No one else can, either. We support the idea, but we just can't find
the sources," Johnson notes.
Duke has been providing
vegetarian and vegan options at some of its eateries since the mid-1990s, says
Jim Wulforst, director of dining services. "We do respond to the demands of our
customer base and follow through," he says, noting that Duke Dining also caters
to international students, kosher diners and others.
Johnson says Duke Dining tries to
work with companies whose values match Duke's. That helps explain why in 2006 Duke
hired Compass Group, whose brands include Bon Appetit, to manage many of its
largest campus restaurants. Bon Appetit is known for its sustainability
efforts, including recycling of pre-consumer waste and composting of unused
food, and gets much of its produce from local farms, including the Duke Campus
"Rather than wait for students to
be upset, we look ahead for trends and what we should be doing. Bon Appetit has
been a great fit for our culture," Johnson says.
Duke Dining is not the only
university entity affected by this summer's reading project. Student Affairs,
the sustainability office, religious life, the career center, the health
center, alumni affairs and the Nasher Museum of Art are all involved in the campuswide
food discussion. They have planned courses, conversations, arts-related
programs and posted a website (http://sites.duke.edu/food/)
that includes dietary tips and recommendations from several academic deans
about which local restaurants and grocery stores offer the best vegetarian and
vegan choices. On the afternoon of Aug. 25, Foer
will visit campus to discuss his book with the incoming students.
Alphin, director of Nutrition Services Student Health, believes it is the
university's responsibility to educate students about food and nutrition, and
she has compiled a list of books, such as "The Omnivores Dilemma," "In Defense
of Food" and "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," for students who want to read more on
the subject. "This list complements this
year's summer reading for students who may wish to read other view points on
similar topics related to food," she says.
years ago, when I first got to Duke, it was, 'Here's your meal plan. Take it or
leave it.' Today students are much more knowledgeable about health, nutrition," Alphin adds. "Much of what we're now
doing (in conjunction with 'Eating Animals'), we were heading in that direction
anyway. The book just made it happen faster."
Adams, assistant dean for residence life, says "Eating Animals" appears to be doing
exactly what a reading selection is supposed to do -- "create a thoughtful and
a social conscience is never a bad thing," he adds.
Hall, the incoming freshman, says he never gave much
thought to the food he ate prior to reading "Eating Animals."
"While many of Jonathan Foer's readers are not likely to
change their eating habits for good, it is hard to deny that his persuasiveness
plants a seed of doubt into the minds of those who never before bothered with
much thought on the issue," he says. "I know he planted doubt in my mind. I can
no longer eat meat without my conscience conjuring up the knowledge of what the
animal went through to get to my plate."