My first campaign to protect animals began four years ago. A few friends and I took on our alma mater, demanding a boycott of eggs from hens confined to battery cages-perhaps the cruelest form of confinement that exists for land animals today, and the sad reality for virtually all layers in the US. As a student I'd worked in the dining hall (run by Aramark), and had seen the huge amounts of eggs consumed each day. I realized that changing the policy of an institution like my college was a way to lessen animal suffering that went beyond the number of animals spared by my vegan diet.
My friends and I gathered signatures, spoke with administrators, contacted hundreds of alumni, published articles in the newspaper and held events on campus to educate students about the issue. It took us months of work to achieve our goal, and when we won, we celebrated the fact that a few hundred hens each year would not have to suffer in cages barely larger than their bodies, unable to even spread their wings. The student newspaper announcing the policy change hangs above my desk to this day.
I spent the next two years carrying out the same battery cage campaigns on nearly every campus in the Boston area while my colleagues at The Humane League did the same in cities across the country. The campaigns were tough and went on for months at a time. Dining directors hung up on us or had us barred from coming onto campus to gather signatures. But ultimately we succeeded-over 100 schools joined in the boycott.
Now, just a few years later, the boycott of battery cage eggs by the dining sector has grown exponentially. Since the beginning of 2015 alone, The Humane League has successfully campaigned against or partnered with major dining companies that control nearly every corporate and campus cafeteria in the country-multibillion dollar corporations that purchase millions and millions of eggs each year. Within a matter of weeks, not years, thousands of universities, businesses, hospitals, and other sites with a cafeteria have joined the boycott. Currently 13 of the top 25 dining companies, including the top five who own the lion's share of the industry, have signed on. Literally millions of hens will no longer face a lifetime suffering in a cage thanks to these new policies-a development my friends and I never imagined possible when we started on our first campaign four years ago.
Most encouraging of all is that many companies are making policy changes that go beyond the boycott of battery cages. Dining giant Sodexo, for example, has committed to include many other animals and agricultural practices in their updated policy. And we are currently in talks with major foodservice providers about introducing new policies that will greatly decrease the amounts of meat currently being served. Our successful campaigns against battery cages, begun on such a small scale just years ago, have gained us a place at the table, partnering with powerful corporations that are in a position to dramatically affect the suffering of millions.
Today I am more optimistic than ever about what our movement can achieve. We see vast numbers of talented young people flocking to the cause of animal rights. Investors like Bill Gates and Li Ka-shing are putting serious money into the future of food (and guess what-it's not animal agriculture). Growing alongside fellow animal protection groups, The Humane League has expanded from one city to a network of thousands of activists from coast to coast. Even looking at only the last five years of progress, it's clear that momentum is building.
Please, join us-whatever you are able to do...volunteer, intern, work full-time or donate. Get involved. There has never been a more exciting time to join our movement. Battery cages are just the beginning.
Battery cage image courtesy of Compassion Over Killing.
David Coman-Hidy is the Executive Director of The Humane League.