We’ve become familiar with celebrity chefs, but a celebrity rancher? As the subject of feature articles in publications ranging from The New Yorker to Modern Farmer, Anya Fernald ’98 is getting noticed for her efforts to redefine what it means to eat meat in America. She appeals to those who will pay a hefty premium for meat from animals that have been raised with careful attention to their well-being and humanely brought to market.
In microcosm, she underscores an issue that divides Americans: our willingness to pay more (or not) to ensure that our purchases—a hamburger, a new shirt, or an Apple watch—don’t come at the cost of su ering or environmental degradation. I have personal preferences but a deep reluctance to moralize on this topic. Some can pay more for hamburgers, but many people can- not, and I don’t know how to balance the equation between a ordability and humane, sustain- able practices.
I’m glad that people like Anya are giving all of us a choice, and that strikes me as the heart of the matter. We can’t exercise our personal preferences or cast a vote for sustainability unless we have reasonable choices and sound information not obscured by marketing hype. (Yes, that’s asking a lot!) Not long ago it was nearly impossible to buy hamburger that didn’t come from factory-farm cows. That’s changing for the better. When I look at the concern young people, including students at Wesleyan, show for sustainable practices in the food they consume, I am optimistic. The locavore movement has brought them many choices, as well (see page 24).
The decision to purchase an education is a lot more fraught than buying a hamburger, but the same principle applies: We’re better o when we have good choices and good information. The key is “good information,” and controversy swirls around di erent methods for providing the public with information—from the annual U.S. News and World Report rankings, much derided in education circles, to the federal government’s College Scorecard, also unloved by educators.
In an essay published in September in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Barack Obama’s Imprint on Higher Education,” President Michael S. Roth wrote: “The Obama administration may have done more than any of its predecessors to highlight the importance of college education, but, as with Scorecard, it has often done so in the most reductionist terms.” Roth faults Scorecard’s overreliance on graduation rates and salaries of graduates. “A college’s graduation rate is obviously important,” he wrote, “but so is what one learns on the path to graduation.”
Wesleyan offers a liberal education characterized by boldness, rigor, and practical idealism. Anya Fernald has unquestionably applied herself boldly to a practical problem. Whether you choose to pay a premium for her meat products or not, she is changing the world for the better by enhancing our choices. It’s too bad that so few college ranking methods attempt to capture what Anya—and so many of our fellow alumni—bring to the world.
William Holder ’75, editor