From Community Colleges to Food Giants: Our Mission to Eliminate Cages

December 22, 2015

Eight years ago, I coordinated my first cage-free campaign with The Humane League. It resulted in a commitment from my local community college to stop supplying its on-campus cafeterias with eggs from caged hens. This commitment spared hundreds of hens each year from suffering in cages that were so small, each animal was denied most of their everyday inclinations.

Today, I wrapped up my 60th campaign with The Humane League. After spending a year working to convince Nestlé to stop caging the hens in its supply chain, I've just received confirmation that the transnational food and beverage company, the world's largest food company measured by revenues, will completely eliminate the abusive practice of confining hens to cages throughout its worldwide egg supply chain. This commitment will affect the millions of hens suffering to supply products for more than 2,000 highly recognizable brands, including Carnation, Stouffer's, and Häagen-Dazs.

How does one go from sparing hundreds of hens suffering to affecting the lives of millions worldwide? Patience combined with tireless, relentless effort. Fortunately for us at The Humane League, each step from our early focus on university-by-university policy updates to sweeping, industry-wide commitments has resulted in key successes that prove we're realizing our mission to reduce animal suffering as a whole by inspiring change at all levels.

First: Community Colleges

Throughout my first campaign, I focused efforts on my local community college as my colleagues at The Humane League led similar campaigns across the country. Everything that I did—from gathering signatures and publishing op-eds to organizing with students on campus and reaching out to alumni and donors—was focused on the hundreds of hens who suffered for the products in this community college's cafeteria.

After a year of campaigning and meeting with dining services, the college finally committed to no longer sourcing products from hens that are subjected to one of the cruelest forms of confinement that exists for land animals today.

Fellow animal advocates recognize campaign success, no matter its size, as its own special type of adrenaline. Knowing that hundreds, thousands, or millions of animals will no longer suffer in spaces that are too small for their basic behaviors is just the motivation needed to make the next campaign, no matter how much work it requires, worth it. This is exactly how I felt after my local community college's policy change.

Next: Major Universities

The successes from our locally focused campaigns prepared us to expand our focus. With victories against a few local cafeterias under our belts, we launched campaigns that would affect even more hens per school by changing the policies of larger universities. For me, that meant I set my sights on schools in Maryland and Washington DC.

I began raising awareness of the cruel nature of cages by leafleting and leading talks in major universities in the Washington metropolitan area. While I was no longer focusing on just one school, my approach stayed the same. School-by-school, I gathered signatures, organized with students, met with dining services representatives—all the same grassroots advocating work that proved successful in my first campaign.

It took years to convince these major universities to make commitments, but it worked. Towson University, University of Maryland Baltimore County, The Catholic University of America, George Washington University, and many others committed to ending the caging of hens in their supply chains.

By the end of 2014—six years after my initial victory against my local community college—The Humane League was seeing weekly reports of community colleges joining the cage boycott. In fact, we were seeing so many successes that we realized we could leverage this momentum to expand our reach. We had an occasional corporate victory that affected animals on a national scale, but it was time to make this our primary focus.

...and Then Foodservice Giants

We were ready to take on the foodservice giants. These are the companies who service dining halls at academic and entertainment institutions across the country. The Big 3—Sodexo, Aramark, and Compass Group—would likely recognize our name and, having seen our involvement with their contracts on a local level, enter into negotiations with us to change animal welfare policies on a national scale.

Little time was wasted getting these campaigns off the ground by keeping our approach similar to what had worked before: Signatures were gathered; Op-eds were published; Demonstrations were organized. Whereas our grassroots network previously had multiple groups across the U.S. focused in on their local schools and universities, we now banded together to put pressure on one major company in multiple locations across the country.

The aggressive public campaigning worked on Sodexo. In February 2015, the third largest foodservice company on the planet committed to completely eliminating the practice of caging hens in its North American supply chains. This was the first time a major food service company had made such a commitment.

Up next: Aramark, the second largest foodservice provider of the Big 3. After an aggressive two-week campaign, Aramark made their own commitment.

Finally, the largest foodservice company in the world followed suit. Compass Group's commitment completed the trifecta, providing us with the force we would need for our next move.

What's next after you've convinced the Big 3? The industry as a whole.

Immediately following Compass Group's commitment, we began negotiations to completely eliminate cages from the rest of the foodservice industry. With under a year of campaigning, nearly all of the FM Top 50 have joined the cage boycott.

Restaurants and Food Companies, Too

Wondering if the advocacy approach that worked so well for college cafeterias and major food service providers works for the restaurants and food companies that provide most U.S. citizens with their breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, too? Short answer: It does! In fact, in the spring of 2015 we set the ambitious goal of a commitment from The Cheesecake Factory. Within a few months, we had it on the books, along with commitments from Dunkin Donuts, Panera Bread, TGI Fridays, Black Bear Diner, Peet's Tea & Coffee, Einstein Bros, and Caribou Coffee.

Wondering about bakeries and food companies? Yep, works on them, too. Flowers Foods, Grupo Bimbo, and General Mills are just a few of the bakeries and food companies that have responded to our campaigns, or the potential of one, with their own commitments.

Beyond the top 200 restaurants and industry-leading food companies, we've reached out to every hotel chain and every cruise ship line and will continue the talks that we started in 2015 into the next year, feeling confident that news of their commitments will soon join the many campaign victory announcements on our blog.

Next: The Industry—No, the World at Large

We haven't checked every community college off of our list. Same goes for universities, food companies, and restaurants.

We are, however, finding more and more opportunity to celebrate as commitments from the largest companies in the world are now rolling in on a weekly basis, often times with plans that affect not only their presence in the U.S. but worldwide as well. Specifically, the commitments from Royal Caribbean, Grupo Bimbo, and Nestlé all reach beyond supply chains in the U.S. to affect worldwide suppliers.

Each new campaign victory at The Humane League, though much smaller in scale eight years ago, keeps me going. Throughout my first campaign that helped hundreds of hens in the Washington metropolitan area to the many years and campaigns later, the news of industry-wide change fuels my tireless work to reduce the suffering of animals. Because you are here with us—donating; signing & sharing petitions; speaking out through emails, phone calls, tweets, and more—large scale victories are now weekly occurrences. Thank you for your continued support.