When last we spoke, I had just finished regaling to you my Friday night and Saturday morning experiences at the 2nd Annual Ivy League Vegan Conference held last weekend at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. During the conference’s Saturday lunch of vegan pizza (I chose instead to pick up a gluten-free salad at Claire’s Corner Copia that morning), I and a couple student attendees from Boston University and Drexel decided to make a quick run for coffee and tea at a nearby cafe called Blue State Coffee. With an atmosphere that screamed liberality, fair trade, and social justice, the cafe fit well into the overall activist theme of my weekend. Though not a vegan cafe by any means, Blue State Coffee did offer a number of vegan options, including a Tempeh Reuben Wrap, a Quinoa Salad, an Apple Pound Cake, a refrigerator case well-stocked with GT’s Kombucha, and a carafe full of soy milk alongside its dairy-based counterparts.
After returning to the conference from our coffee-and-tea excursion, I and my fellow student attendees settled in for the afternoon’s three talks on philosophy, career choices, and ag-gag laws.
The first talk, entitled “Contemporary Issues in Animal Ethics”, featured thought-provoking musings from distinguished philosophy professors Lori Gruen (one of my personal favorite authorities on the ethics of eating animals), Dale Jamieson, Shelly Kagan, and Jeff McMahan. Kagan pondered the question of whether one’s individual decision to not eat animals makes a societal difference, concluding from a utilitarian viewpoint that even if not purchasing animal products may not for sure make a difference, it would effect less negative consequences than doing so. McMahan spoke to the topic of “humane meat” and inquired as to the ethics of genetically engineering animals to die at a young enough age so as to provide desirable meat without having humans slaughter them (because it still commodifies animals? Because it perpetuates the notion of eating animals as acceptable? Because maybe if we have to biologically manipulate animals in order to justify our consumption of them then perhaps we should ask ourselves if we really should eat them at all?). Gruen encouraged the audience to acknowledge that, even as vegans, we all cause animal suffering in some way, but also urged people to grieve for the animals whom we unintentionally harm. Finally, Jamieson pointed out that humans tend to rank creatures based upon how well they exhibit certain qualities (sentience, intelligence, etc.), and introduced the notion of challenging these terms that we so often use to classify animals.
Next, William Crouch of the Oxford-based organization 80,000 Hours that aids individuals in choosing career paths that will most impact society presented the organization’s philosophy of “earning to give.” The main point of this idea holds that working in a lucrative field and funneling the great amounts of money that one earns in said field can effect greater positive change than working directly in non-profits, since money can fund any cause whereas working for a single non-profit limits the movements on can help. While I agree that those who already hold jobs in which they make large sums of money should seriously consider donating significant portions of their earnings to charitable efforts, I certainly don’t believe in dissuading (which Crouch appeared to intend to do) individuals aiming to work for non-profits, both because social movements always need more inside support and because I intend to pursue a career in the non-profit world myself.
The last talk before the conference broke once again for dinner pertained to animal law, specifically “Ag-Gag, Undercover Investigations, and the 1st Amendment,” and featured renowned animal lawyers Cheryl Leahy, Lewis Bollard, and David Cassuto (who has appeared on a past episode of the Our Hen House podcast!). Outlining the history and current status of ag-gag laws—those created by the animal agriculture industry that seek to criminalize undercover investigations of factory farms—in the U.S., the three lawyers explained both the unconstitutionality of such laws as well as how they blame individuals who seek to restore the victimhood that agribusiness has stolen from abused animals and projected upon themselves.
After about five quite enjoyable hours of deep contemplation invoked by the three aforementioned discussions, I and the rest of my fellow VARC-ers had worked up quite an appetite, and decided to patronize Claire’s Corner Copia (the second time in one day for me!) for dinner. I ordered a delicious stir-fry of juicy baby bok choy, meltingly tender bell peppers, chewy cubes of marinated tofu, earthy mushrooms, and half-moons of carrot over brown rice, as well as a side order (the portion of which seemed to me much more than a side) of superbly spiced roasted sweet potato wedges. Though I verily enjoyed my second meal at Claire’s, I must say that their prices do seem a bit steep for the humble atmosphere they foster, and their dessert/baked good selection does not seem to cater to the vegan crowd very well, if at all. However, their menu does boast a great variety of options, appealing to a whole host of patrons, whether meat-eaters, vegetarians, health-conscious folk, or hedonist vegans.
Contentedly filled with scrumptious vegan noms, our group of VARC-ers headed back to the conference building for the event’s keynote speech by Wayne Pacelle, the president of the Humane Society of the United States. Pacelle spoke about humans’ intrinsic connection with animals, how humans must accept the responsibility of ensuring the positivity of this connection, and the past success for which HSUS has advocated in terms of animal welfare. While I certainly believe that animal advocacy requires proponents of both animal welfare and animal rights, it frustrates me to see an organization as pervasive in American society as HSUS pandering to their supporters—most of whom do not lead vegan lifestyles—by all but ignoring the movement’s greater goal of animal liberation. If we don’t expose mainstream society to the notion of animal rights, then who will?
The conference schedule listed one final discussion of the night focusing on college activism, but I and my fellow VARC-er Katie instead opted to return to our Yale dorm room to catch up on a bit of schoolwork before retiring for the night to dream about the talk on plant-based nutrition given by the always-animated Michael Greger that awaited us the next day. However, you, dear reader, will also have to dream about this talk until my next post, for I must now devote myself to writing an English paper. Stay tuned for my final post of the 2013 Ivy League Vegan Conference, which will detail Dr. Greger’s fascinating talk as well as summarize my overall view of the conference.
Until next time, Ali.