CAFOs: Just about the worst thing on Earth.

Regarding farming, the average American is probably familiar with issues related to pesticides, GMOs, antibiotics, fair-trade, or organic certification. However whenever I bring up CAFOs, most people have no idea what I’m talking about, which is disconcerting because CAFOs are some of the nastiest things on Earth. If you need persuading take a look at the picture below:

That ^ ^ is a “manure lagoon”, literally a basin of animal excrement that is a direct by-product of CAFOs, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. The majority of the meat you eat in America (unless it is free-range/organic/local) comes from Big Agriculture – corporations who raise their animals in factory-like conditions, cramming tens of thousands of animals in tiny pens where they never see the light of day, benefit from free movement and exercise, or breathe fresh air. These are concentration camps for animals, where the goal of the corporation is to achieve industrial levels of efficiency with animals as their production slaves. This doesn’t just pose a moral issue regarding the treatment of animals; CAFOs have a direct and serious impact on YOUR health and the health of the environment.

When animals receive little to no exercise, breathe the stench of the refuse of thousands of other animals nearby, and are fed artificial food (or food that is cheap but not a part of their natural diet, i.e. corn), they grow less and experience more health problems, like E. Coli growing in the stomachs of cows. In order to counteract this, animals are pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones, which affects your body as you eat their meat or drink their milk. Increased levels of ingested antibiotics and growth hormones in the human body have lowered the age at which children begin puberty (with many girls receiving their first period at the age of 7), augmented the body’s storage of fat, and have lessened people’s ability to be treated effectively by antibiotics in cases of illness. Got a bad case of acne? Feeling bloated? Missing periods? That’s probably the hormones in your milk/meat.*

Aside from your own body, CAFOs have a serious impact on the world around you. Manure lagoons, which are a slurry of solid sludge and liquid excrement, are known to emit a volatile mix of greenhouse gases. These gases include ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, methane (which is 25% more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2), and carbon dioxide. With about 450,000 CAFOs in the United States and with the way wind likes to travel, the air you breathe is in fact directly affected by CAFOs that may be thousands of miles away from you (as an example of this, California has a significant amount of pollution in its air generated by CHINA!! which is 6,687 miles away across an ocean).

Additionally, although manure lagoons are lined with clay to prevent the antibiotics, estrogens, bacteria, pesticides, heavy metals, and protozoa in them from contaminating local water, they are prone to overflow either due to cracks in their lining or just increased rainfall/strong wind. Contaminating water and soil with these substances then affects ecosystem populations of a variety of animals (as an example, algae will overpopulate bodies of water and suffocate other aquatic animals/fish).

Why do CAFOs exist? Partly it’s your fault. It’s also mine. With Americans increasingly not knowing from what conditions their food comes from and just accepting the miracle that are supermarket shelves, we are eating an abundance of protein. People eat large amounts of meat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. People gladly go for that second or third helping of hamburger at family BBQs. People choose not just sausage, but also bacon, ham, and a turkey patty at continental breakfast buffets. Of course, no industry will say “no” to increased demand. You want more meat? The industry will find a way to make it happen. And the only way to satisfy the estimated 324,227,000** of us that all want meat every day for every meal*** is a CAFO. Making a change doesn’t start with the industry (governments have tried to moderate the inhumane treatment of animals in CAFOs, with only minimal effect), it starts with YOU. By making a decision to limit your meat intake to one meal per day, for example, or maybe once every two days, you can make a serious dent in demand. If there’s no need for hellish amounts of meat, there’s no need for CAFOs. Believe me, Americans actually eat more protein than necessary in a regular diet (eating too much protein can actually suck calcium out of your bones). You don’t need it.

So now that you know the personal health, environmental, and economical impacts of CAFOs, let’s briefly review the conditions in which these animals live, partnered with images.

Chickens live in “broilers”, where they are crammed into a small tent with 20,000 to 30,000 other birds and have less than a square foot of living space. They live for approximately 7 weeks (despite the fact that healthy chickens can live 8-10 years!), the entire time sitting on their own waste, called “cake” by CAFO industrialists.

Cow CAFOS are just about the worst. These giant animals meant by nature to be pasture roaming, healthy creatures are crammed in pens and fed a diet of just about whatever can fill their stomachs with no regard to nutritional content. This includes hydrolyzed poultry feathers, by-products of the other animals killed on the farm, inter-species waste, and cement dust. Even on farms where the diet is less sickening and cows are fed corn, a very cheap alternative to grass, cows must be pumped with antibiotics to negate the E. Coli in their stomachs. Fed on grass, cows develop no E. Coli in their digestive tracts.



Pigs live in no better conditions, despite them being smarter than dogs. 1,200 to 2,500 pigs can be confined in one space, all in cages

American Pork Shipped to China


Egg laying hens suffer no less than those raised for their meat. They are kept in the most confining cages, with their beaks seared off so they cannot maim their neighbor. They live for a year before they are killed.



As you can see, CAFOs are beyond unnatural: they’re beasts that shouldn’t exist and have far-reaching impact. If anything, if you don’t feel recycling makes an impact, if you don’t feel waste reduction is possible in your life (which is not true FYI), just eat less meat. With the amount we eat every day, you as an individual influencing your family and your friends can actually make a giant impact.

*Soy milk, although not a product of industrial farms, also has high amounts of hormones and has been attributed to similar issues.

**Estimate by the US Census Bureau

***Yes, I know I’m not taking into account vegans and vegetarians, but that’s just because they are a very small minority in this country. The difference is minuscule and the point still stands.



Author: Jackie Ibragimov




B Lab: A New Way to Grade Businesses

Food can be labeled organic, fair trade, or local. Facilities can be labeled Leed Certified. Washers/Dryers can be sold as “Energy Star appliances”. But what about businesses?

For that, there is B Lab, a nonprofit that “serves a global movement of people using business as a force for good™” with the hopes of promoting a culture where businesses don’t just compete for profits but also to be the Best for the World®.

Certified B Corporations™ meet rigorous standards of “verified, overall social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability”. These companies are by all means profit seeking, however in daily processes and in every step of the business process, these corporations take into account the impact of their actions on both society and the Earth.

There are currently over 1,600 Certified B Corporations in the world, spanning 42 countries, each having signed the Declaration of Interdependence. By signing the declaration, B Corps commit to conduct business as if “people and place [matter]”, to “do no harm and benefit all”, and to accept that “we are each dependent upon another and thus responsible for each other and future generations.”

Corporations are then reviewed for their impact on the Environment, relationship with Workers, impact on Customers and Community, and accountability and transparency in  Governance. All of these scores are released online and are compared to a median score of other businesses in the same industry. As an example, check out the B Corps Impact Report for Exygy, a software company.

Aside from official certification, B Lab also offers to all companies the use of their B Impact Assessment, which has been used by the likes of Etsy, Ben & Jerry’s, and Patagonia to help detect where companies can improve. Thus far, 15,000 companies have benefited from this tool.

The requirements of being B Corps Certified are quite simple, with the process being very open and inviting. Basically, if you commit to the cause, you’re welcome to join the cause, even if you have room to grow. Because that’s the goal, for all of these companies to continue growing, both in profit and in sustainable business practice, so that we may illustrate to the world that companies CAN be profitable and sustainable.

Thanks for learning with me, and have a green rest of your week!


Author: Jackie Ibragimov


Where Do We Get Our Local Food From?

The University of Rochester prides itself on providing students with healthy and nutritious local food. At the moment, 56% of food products on campus are locally sourced. This includes the vegetables and fruits we serve at salad bars and in cooked meals, some of our healthiest snacks in Hillside and the Pit, and milk served in coffee beverages.

56% might not sound like a lot, but with the amount of students and faculty we have to feed and caffeinate on campus, it’s pretty darn awesome that we can source a majority of food from small, family-owned local farms.

Why does this even matter though? Well, instead of sending our UofR big bucks to Big Agriculture for food that is often covered in pesticides and meat that is filled with antibiotics, the University is financially supporting farmers and distributors in New York State. Moreover, we try to focus on getting food from UPSTATE New York, meaning our eating needs as students directly go towards supporting a stronger local economy. These products also have lower to no pesticides and no antibiotics because local farms are also often homes. Would farmers want to live on a CAFO (disgusting animal farm often affiliated with “manure lagoons”) or on a field of toxic chemicals?






So, where do we get all of this food from? How can we organize something so intricate and complex, while dealing with the other thousand and one issues Dining constantly has to manage? Do we directly communicate with all of our local vendors? No, that would be insanely time consuming.

Instead, we use Headwater Food Hub, a company that I believe to be innovating the way local farmers work.


Source: Twitter @liv_rotondo

Headwater Food Hub is basically a consultant for local farmers. Partner farms trust Headwater with the management of their “supply chain logistics, aggregation, distribution, and sales”. In other words, Headwater acts as a middleman for these farmers, letting them focus on the task of producing high quality, nutritious and tasty food, while managing the logistics of supplying restaurants, schools, businesses, and grocery stores.

Another facet of Headwater Food to keep in mind as for those living off campus is the Good Food Collective, a subsection of Headwater that focuses on supplying local food directly to you, the individual.

How does it work? You buy a share (priced out at sometimes lower than grocery store costs) of food for the amount of people you need to feed (either yourself, or a family, or maybe just you and your roommate). Every week or two weeks (depending on the share you choose), you go to a conveniently located distribution center, where you pick up a basket of goods. If you live in certain zip codes, you can even have it delivered directly to your home. AND! if you take this info with you to your boss in the Rochester/Finger Lakes/New York City region maybe you can even set up workplace shares, and everyone could pick up their basket of goods at work. Shares are catered to season and sometimes even Holidays (Thanksgiving shares are up right now!!!).

To find out more about shares, check out this page. (P.S. You can even get shares of locally roasted coffee…)


Hurd Orchards // Source:


First Light Creamery // Source:

Happy Eating!


Author: Jackie Ibragimov