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Cock-A-Doodle-Damned: The Avian Bird Flu and Emmanuel (Will Breakfast Ever Be the Same?)

This is the first of a three part series about the Avian Flu and its impact in Boston and abroad.

“It’s such a wonderful thing, the edible egg,”  said Robin Fortado, the General Manager of Bon Appetit dining services at Emmanuel College. “This is the largest food crisis we’ve come across in years.”

When the price of a dozen eggs at the grocery store hit new heights in some places this summer, knowledge of a closely monitored outbreak of H5, or Avian Flu, finally swept through a vacuum online with reports of a forthcoming poultry apocalypse. Human society might erode pretty fast in The Walking Dead, but for the industrialized farm complex, an epidemic of the scale witnessed by the people closest to it is more than startling when chickens die off by the millions. (No exaggeration.) Overall, it’s happened pretty quietly.

The U.S Department of Agriculture has prepared a sizable report about its efforts to control the spread of this year’s Avian Flu, saying the losses of “7.5 million turkeys and 42.1 million egg-layer and pullet chickens” have precipitated “a cost to Federal taxpayers of over $950 million.”

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Breakfast patrons are reminded that made-to-order eggs will not be available at the grill until further notice.

At Emmanuel, there’s still scrambled eggs in the mornings at the Comforts Station, but these dishes will be paired with other ingredients for bulk more frequently if the situation worsens.

Meanwhile, Bon Appetit may not be able to deliver on a commitment to using exclusively pasteurized, liquid eggs for all meals by the end of the year. Sustainability – at least as far as eggs are concerned – is difficult when the product is that much harder to come by.

Eggs with shells are still on the market, but they’re just really expensive.

According to Ms. Fortado, Bon Appetit is credited for supporting local vendors though not necessarily rewarded for it, as it’s more part of their identity than business strategy. But while there’s a good chance total famine won’t affect local business to the extent it has nationally, you need to fork out major cash to supplant even a tiny school like ours with those amount of eggs.

“Right now, we’re just trying to get as many eggs as we can,” said Ms. Fortado. The Sysco corporation (no doubt you’ve seen their trucks) receives and distributes Bon Appetit’s orders. In essence, Sysco can ration produce based on its availability or cost. In the worst case, should the Avian Flu go uncontained throughout the year, you’ll find less eggs everywhere. Chicken is also at risk, and turkey too.

So, why did this famine take off? Pun intended; chickens can’t fly!

Signage you can expect to find in the main dining hall and Muddy River Cafe, if not already.

Signage you can expect to find in the main dining hall and Muddy River Cafe, if not already.

According to the Center for Disease Control, the Avian Flu is a naturally occurring phenomenon that affects wild populations of various bird species. The illness is especially fatal for domesticated animals that were never exposed to conditions outside of a pen (or that wall of a thousand little cages in Food Inc.) and is spread through droppings and close contact with other birds.

You can see where the Avian Flu has emanated from in the United States courtesy of this Google map by WATTAgNet, a “source for International and US Poultry, Pig and Feed Production.”

Think you’ve caught the bird flu? Go to Health Services. Actually, you’re a walking bio hazard, so wrap yourself in plastic and roll down Brookline Avenue towards a hospital.

But it’s unlikely, as no verifiable human cases have yet been reported or found in North America since this newest strain appeared in December of last year. Still, that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Human transmission is possible. According to the World Health Organization, 39 people have died in Egypt this year as a result of the Avian Flu.

39!

Ms. Fortado said that she and the Bon Appetit staff entered this fall by asking themselves how to offer balanced meals without leading the kitchen into economic ruin. So far, they’ve done this in a number of different ways.

You should keep an eye out for new breakfast sandwiches, tricked out pancakes and unique muffins. A tomato avocado cream cheese breakfast sandwich is being introduced now.

“[The chef] is always going to do a fun, funky egg-less sandwich at the grill,” said Ms. Fortado.

Hard boiled eggs at the salad bar are no more. In their place are other options for protein like Tempe and salmon. Vegetarians, rejoice. All is not lost. At the Comforts Station, you’ll also find veggie quiche some days to relieve demand for eggs.

Golden, fluffy and gone. This is the world, now.

With bird migratory patterns renewed as the seasons change, H5 could return with a vengeance and threaten whole populations as well as the fragile market for eggs once more.

But what about your Sunday morning omelet fix? So far, that’s still possible, unless a dramatic shift further exterminates even more chickens.

“We are trying to incorporate some cool ideas, and of course we love student feedback,” said Robin. She predicts a whopping 12-18 month long deficit in the national supply of eggs until #BirdFlu2015 is suppressed.

Posted by on September 20, 2015. Filed under Around Campus. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.