Vassar students are eating up a greenwashed atrocity marketed specifically to an eco-minded student body. On Oct. 1, The Miscellany News covered the opening of BurgerFi , the new burger joint conveniently positioned beside Vassar College’s renovated and newly relocated off-campus bookstore. The article misleadingly touts BurgerFi as “an ecologically friendly twist on the American burger joint” with an “environmentally conscious selection of food.” In the article, the restaurant’s general manager, Derrick De Lise, is described as “proud of their lack of impact on the environment” and rightfully notes how environmentalism resonates with the Vassar community. Yet, BurgerFi’s recycled-Coke-bottle chairs and energy-efficient fans should not be used to veil the true environmental destruction its menu perpetuates. The Vassar community, sharp and capable of looking past conscience-easing marketing, can and must recognize BurgerFi’s green image for what it is: greenwashing of environmentally disastrous animal agriculture.
Animal agriculture is understood as a leading cause of biodiversity loss, resource depletion, pollution, climate change, deforestation, and desertification and erosion. Here’s a brief look at why this is: The farming of animals for food—such as the farming of Montana cattle for BurgerFi burgers—requires land for growing the cattle’s food and land for grazing and housing. This, in fact, currently requires 30 percent of the planet’s landmass and causes 80 percent of all deforestation. Wildlife who are perceived as threats to farmed animals or have habitats in the way of agriculture are either displaced or killed, including the rounding up of wild horses who are auctioned off and often also sold for slaughter.
Similarly, a great deal of water is needed to grow the plants farmed animals eat and for the hydration of the animals, themselves. A National Public Radio report reveals that just one quarter-pound hamburger requires 52.8 gallons of water to produce! As headlines bring international attention to devastating droughts—such as that in dairy-producer California—those monitoring their sprinkler use or shower times must also take a close look at what’s on their plates.
Additionally, the farming of animals produces mass amounts of waste, in the form of manure, blood, and miscellaneous body parts. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that the waste generated by the farming of pigs, chickens, and cattle has polluted 35,000 miles of river and contaminated ground water supplies in 17 of 22 states reporting on the subject. This is just a small look at the devastating and widespread effects of animal agriculture on the environment. As is the case with other environmental issues, animal agriculture’s effects disproportionately affect already vulnerable human populations.
Beyond the devastating environmental effects of animal agribusiness, the farming of nonhuman animals for human consumption is inherently violent. Whether grass-fed or confined to a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), the cattle killed for burgers only live out two of their potential twenty-plus years. Over 30,000,000 of these sensitive, gentle animals are killed young each year in the U.S. alone. They experience the pain of separation from family and friends before finally having a bolt gun pressed to their heads. Most consuming the flesh of cattle or other animals have never known them intimately in their living forms, never watched as they experience a full range of emotions or revealed their individual personalities. Rather, most only know them through consumption of their bodies, sometimes in the form of a BurgerFi burger.
With all this in mind, I know Vassar students and others compelled to dine at “ecologically friendly” eateries can see through BurgerFi’s marketing. A quarter of the student body has already pledged to participate in the international Meatless Monday campaign, and many choose to eat vegetarian or vegan every day of the week. If BurgerFi intends to present a menu resonant with the Vassar community, a great first step would be to offer truly environmentally conscious options and to place a vegan burger on the menu. The Vassar Animal Rights Coalition has launched an online petition asking the franchise to do just that on Change.org. Please sign to show your support! Beyond this, we, as a community, must continue to question the seemingly benign and nicely packaged, recognizing the true impact of BurgerFi and animal agribusiness.