Got Beef with Less Beef? – Eleanor Lustig

Editor’s Note: This article was written on behalf of thinkFOOD Williams

This September, College President Adam Falk announced that while the Trustees agreed with the sentiments expressed by divestment advocates, the situation at Williams called for a self-designed action plan for fighting climate change at the institutional level. This plan includes the re-investment of around $50 million in order to reduce the Williams community’s carbon footprint and fossil fuel consumption, as well as increase climate-based education. He invited students to hear his perspective and ask questions, which many did. At this Q & A session, a student asked if any changes to Dining Services’ purchases were to be included in the college’s new green spending plan. President Falk replied that no changes would be made.

While transportation, emissions from energy creation, and unsustainable building practices have become the face of our emissions problem–and are all-important issues to tackle–they are not the only pieces of the puzzle. The food on each of our plates affects our climate as much, if not more, than these more well-known issues. That said, we often overlook the embodied water, carbon, and degraded land in the food we eat. Measured by these standards, industrially-produced beef is the most environmentally harmful protein we consume.

Neglecting food production in this conversation undermines the central project of taking a bold stance as a college community. In their statement, the Trustees emphasized their agreement with the “desire to increase awareness and advance the conversation about climate change through a very public act, even if that act is largely symbolic”. They seemed to say that although they were not going to follow through with Divestment’s proposition, they would act for the same reasons and to attain the same broader goals. In particular, they agreed that Williams, as a wealthy, prominent, and respected institution ought to take a visible lead in the fight against climate change. This means we must take the responsibility that belongs to each one of us on our shoulders, in a significant and noticeable way.

Currently, Williams has not committed to anything drastic or noticeable in its climate action plan. A substantial reduction in greenhouse gases, net sustainable carbon neutrality by 2020, creating partnerships and projects that support the environment, and investing in our educational mission are neither aggressive nor particularly reportable goals. Nothing on the list engages students who don’t decide to get involved, and even those who do can’t participate much in achieving these goals.

If we want to create a culture of thoughtfulness and activism regarding climate change on our campus, we have to make changes in ways that affect us all. The decision to reduce our purchasing of industrial beef by half would accomplish this without significantly detracting from the college experience of even the most avid meat eaters. Having less industrial beef in the dining halls would require those who desire it to seek it out, and implore those who often consume it by default to weigh seeking it out in a larger environmental context.

Our food choices are personal; they are intimately tied to our identities. The proposition to reduce industrial beef on campus by no means seeks to limit students’ choices to eat as they please. Rather, it invites students to make their decisions regarding food infinitely more personal by asking them to take responsibility for their choices. As college students, we don’t have control over the embodied energy in many of the activities we engage in day to day. (That is not to dismiss the importance of recycling, turning the heat down, online shopping less, and more!) We eat three meals a day, and so three times a day we are given the opportunity to make decisions about our carbon footprint. Choosing to eat as a vegetarian for a year can reduce your personal carbon emissions by over 3,000 lbs, and every meal you eat without industrial beef is a step in this greener direction. If you are curious about the carbon footprints of different diets, check out

The Union of Concerned Scientists identifies the need to develop a food production system that is sustainable for centuries rather than decades as one of the most pressing issues of our time. Despite our green focus this year, the industrial food production system we implicitly support through our food purchases is not under much scrutiny on our campus. Groups such as thinkFOOD, Williams Environmental Council, Williams Sustainable Growers, and Divest Williams question this fact, and are now petitioning Dining Services to reduce our industrial beef purchases by half. College Council and Dining Services are behind us, if we can demonstrate student support. Sign the petition at this link: or email Eleanor Lustig (ehl1), Jordan Fields (jff1), or Max Harmon (mwh4).

Whether you support this motion or not, come to Goodrich on January 25 at 7pm to talk more about the issue of industrial beef on campus.

2 thoughts on “Got Beef with Less Beef? – Eleanor Lustig

  1. It is clear that Williams Trustees and Administration are psychologically trapped in wish fulfillment. They wish to address climate change without having to make any significant changes in consumption, alteration of capital construction plans, investment strategies. Self- sacrifice, however modest, is not on the table, either in the Board room or in the dining halls. Wishing that the “fossil fuel party” will continue will not make it so.

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