I fully realize that the 2nd Annual Ivy League Vegan Conference took place two whole weekends ago and that I should have wrapped up my recap of the event much sooner that tonight, but between midterms and essays and readings and college life in general, I simply haven’t found the time until now to finally scribe the third and concluding post summarizing my experiences at the conference.
On Sunday, the final day of the conference, I began my morning with a green smoothie (premade in Ferry before departing for the weekend) before strolling with my fellow VARC members one last time to the Yale conference hall. Delivering the only talk of the day entitled “Plant-Based Diets and Recent Findings in Nutrition,” gastroentologist Gary Wu, neuroscientist Gordon Shepherd, and none other than Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at HSUS Michael Greger spoke about how plant-based diets can positively affect those suffering from severe digestive problems such as Irritable Bowel Disorder, the links between flavor and emotion, and the fifteen leading causes of death in America today, respectively (you can find the latter talk, “Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death,” as a video on Dr. Greger’s website). Though all three speakers presented compelling topics detailing profound health implications relating to plant-based diets, Dr. Greger easily stole the show with his cartoon-like voice, upbeat and charismatic demeanor, and undeniable evidence that wholesome vegan diets can effectively combat the Western lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer that have recently plagued the United States. Based on the photo below, I can confidently assume that he and I have developed a close bond as best friends forever.
After the final talk of the conference, I and my fellow VARC-ers bade goodbye to the inspiring student activists from the east coast’s most prestigious colleges before commencing the two-hour drive home to Vassar. While I thoroughly enjoyed meeting such remarkably insightful and all-around lovely people at the conference, contemplating the wide array of topics discussed during the weekend’s nine total talks, and patronizing New Haven vegetarian superstar restaurant Claire’s Corner Copia on three separate occasions in two days, I did take issue with a couple rather blatant omissions from the conference lineup. First, women comprised only two of the twelve speakers featured at the conference. This gender inequality also exists on a larger scale in the animal rights movement; females make up a majority of the vegan population, yet males hold virtually all of the top positions at well-known organizations. As future leaders of the vegan movement, attendees and organizers of the Ivy League Vegan Society should strive to bridge this gap so as to better foster a more holistic sense of equality in our advocacy—how can we ensure the rights of non-human animals if we don’t even ensure them for ourselves?
Secondly, none of the speakers addressed the pressing issue of vegan elitism—the pervasive notion that living a vegan lifestyle proves inaccessible for those of lower socioeconomic backgrounds due to broader societal issues such as food deserts and the promotion of unhealthy grocery items by governmenal food stamp programs and subsidies. Though easy to command everyone to “go vegan” instantaneously, making the shift may prove much more complicated for those in less privileged living situations than simply ceasing to purchase animal products and educating oneself about the horrific bounty of animal abuse. We must address this topic if we truly believe in the possibility of a fully vegan world.
I would strongly encourage the organizers of next year’s conference to consider these suggestions, and thank them for an immensely thought-provoking even this year.
Until next time, Ali.