Conservation Biology Advocates for Change in Food Service Menu
Having students apply classwork in their lives is a rewarding outcome for professors; having students use their classwork to change the campus, and even the world, makes that outcome even sweeter. Recently, students in Sheila Lyons-Sobaski's Conservation Biology class took a project to the College's Dining Services. As a result of the class's advocacy, orange roughy has come off the menu in Albion's dining hall.
Professor Emeritus Jeff Carrier had raised the issue regarding orange roughy with Dining Services Director Todd Tekiele, who asked for student input on the matter. Lyons-Sobaski and her class took up the request, with support from Carrier, who joined them from the Florida Keys via Internet technology. "It was a fun, valuable project for students," said Lyons-Sobaski. "It helped to show that to really do conservation, you must take action."
Students provided a range of information on the orange roughy, including details about reproduction, habitat, life history, and commercial harvesting techniques, in making their case that it's not a sustainable food source for humans. Orange roughy are widely distributed throughout the world's oceans, are relatively easy to process commercially, and are popular with diners. Unfortunately, they are also slow to mature and congregate for mating, making them both an attractive and especially vulnerable target for commercial fishing.
"Presenting and working on orange roughy conservation allowed me to experience what it really means to be a conservationist," said student Seth Everson. "Not only do you have to gather information in a meaningful way, you also have to communicate it to people who have little understanding of the subject, and get the point across in a way that avoids just being a biology lesson."
Beyond detailing the reasons why orange roughy shouldn't be eaten, students also researched alternative, more sustainable choices, considering reproduction rates, fishing practices, taste, and cost of various species. Canadian Atlantic haddock, pollock, halibut and yellow perch were among their choices.
Following the student presentation, Tekiele and staff agreed that orange roughy should not be served on campus. "Having students give compelling arguments, with fact-based research behind it, provided us with enough knowledge to make an informed decision," said Tekiele, who also is co-head of Albion's Sustainability Committee. "As we continue to improve our sustainable practices, the opportunity to bring students, faculty, and staff together in this environment was a memorable experience that yielded real results."
"Our aim is to continuously improve the overall experience for our diners," Tekiele concluded. "We are always open to feedback and willing to develop our program with the assistance of our campus community."
"I think the campus will gain moral satisfaction knowing that they are not eating a fish that is unsustainable," concluded student Heidi Richardson. "People on campus are concerned with all aspects of sustainability, and this project will help educate people on how we can be sustainable [beyond actions like] recycling."