The 2013 National Animal Rights Conference

Last Thursday, June 27 marked the onset of the four-day animal advocacy extravaganza known as the Animal Rights National Conference. Organized annually by Farm Animal Rights Movement, the 32-year-old AR Conference unites passionate vegans, activists, and leaders of the animal rights movement for an extended weekend of educational workshops, discussion sections, networking opportunities, and eye-opening glimpses into the inner workings of the AR movement. As an intern for Compassion Over Killing, a sponsor of the event, I had the immense privilege of attending the 2013 AR Conference for the infinitesimal (and quite enjoyable) price of staffing the COK table for a couple of hours. I found it profoundly rejuvenating to reunite with some of the truly wonderful individuals whom I’ve already met since plunging headfirst into the AR movement, as well as to become newly acquainted with a whole host of others, including those whom I’ve long deeply admired—Colleen Holland of VegNews, pattrice jones of VINE Sanctuary, and Melanie Joy of the Carnism Action and Awareness Network (CAAN), for example.

Manning the COK table.

Staffing the COK table.

COK sold t-shirts, Sticky Fingers baked goods, & the Vegg at the conference.

COK sold t-shirts, Sticky Fingers baked goods, & the Vegg at the conference.

However, I also noticed some quite troubling aspects of the conference that speak to a lack of awareness about intersectionality in the larger AR movement: 1.) The fact that prominent members of the AR community couldn’t attend the conference because of the high financial cost (privileging of the wealthy). 2.) The fact that I couldn’t have spied more than two Black or Latino individuals during the entire duration of the conference (privileging of the white). 3.) The fact that the comedic interlude of Saturday night’s banquet boasted a largely unquestioned and problematically well-received marginalization of the LGBTQ community (privileging of the heterosexual). 4.) The fact that some organizations feel comfortable playing directly into gender norms with their advertising and outreach materials because of its supposed efficacy (privileging of males). 5.) The fact that the conference provided the opportunity for formal discussion of these issues with a mere 50-minute panel presentation crammed into the smallest workshop room available (privileging of the…already privileged?).

Thankfully, the hugely complex and ongoing discussion of privilege did not prove entirely absent from the conference. The aforementioned panel presentation—entitled Commonalities of Oppression and easily the most valuable, thought-provoking presentation of the entire weekend, in my opinion—featured Baruch Ben-Yahuda of Everlasting Life Café, Lisa Kemmerer of “Sister Species,” and pattrice jones of VINE Sanctuary. Ben-Yahuda spoke of his mission with Everlasting Life Café to bring healthy vegan food into impoverished communities so as to combat the fast food-pharmaceutical alliances that perpetuate poverty by rendering unhealthy food easily accessible. Kemmerer insisted upon dualism’s role at the root of social inequalities (black vs. white, male vs. female, straight vs. gay, etc.), and offered the fabulous quote, “Eating meat is something you do to somebody else’s body without their consent.” Finally, jones bravely broached the uncomfortable yet urgent topic of structural racism and sexism within the animal rights movement, urging the audience to educate themselves on the intersectionalities between animal rights and other social justice movements; after all, we can most effectively combat all oppressions when we work at these intersections. Along with these three speakers, The Sparrow Project gave nod to the necessary questioning of privilege with the fabulous t-shirt pictured below, now a treasured item in my wardrobe, and the National Museum of Animals and Society featured their “Uncooped” exhibit, which in part examines the patriarchal language that draws parallels between women and chickens.

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Part of the NMAS' "Uncooped" exhibit.

Part of the NMAS’ “Uncooped” exhibit.

Though I may have until now painted the conference as a spectacle of privilege and problems, I did find the event highly educational in terms of optimizing the efficacy of individual and organizational animal advocacy, as well as illuminating in terms of the valuable role that welfare campaigns play in advancing the ultimate abolitionist goal of animal liberation (perhaps more on the convoluted dichotomy between welfarist and abolitionist approaches to animal rights in a later post). Below you’ll find a summary in list form of the panel presentations I attended and the highlights from each of them.

  • Lessons from Companion Campaigns: Scoutlund Haisley of Animal Rescue Corps explained that rather than defining companion animal shelters as either “kill” or “no-kill,” we should denote them in terms of their municipal or private funding. Neither “kill” or “no-kill” shelters prove inherently more or less humane than the other; rather, the welfare of the animals primarily depends upon the vision and efficacy of the shelter, which varies considerably between municipal and private shelters.
  • Understanding the Mentality Behind Eating Animals: After touching upon the main points of her fabulous book, “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows,” Dr. Melanie Joy explained how animal advocates can most effectively “transform denial into awareness” by creating a non-threatening environment in which to engage in discussion with the huge number of individuals who fall victim to the hidden ideology of carnism. She extolled the virtues of sharing our own stories of discovering the truth behind our veganism, finding common ground with those whom we engage, and avoiding both reductive (“that person eats animals so they’re a bad person”) and “all-or-nothing” (“if you don’t go vegan, you’re not making a difference at all”) thinking.
  • Personal Advocacy: Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary provided the top five tips for fostering the most effective personal advocacy possible. 1.) Confront negative interactions with kindness; after all, we can catch more flies with agave than with vinegar. 2.) Don’t relegate veganism to a “personal choice” when explaining your reasons behind adopting a vegan lifestyle. 3.) Look similar to those with whom you seek to interact, since people will more likely trust you the more you look like them. 4.) Plaster your every belonging with vegan messages in the form of bumper stickers & messages tees. 5.) Channel Socrates by asking questions instead of lecturing at people.
  • Lessons Learned from Agricultural Campaigns: pattrice jones again spoke with profound insight about capitalism’s integral role in fostering the “happy meat” movement, a clever ploy by animal ag to encourage consumers to pay more for animal flesh and secretions by making them feel good about doing so.
  • What About Abolition and Welfare?: This debate between so-called “welfarist” Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary and Gary Francione of the Abolitionist Approach attempted to further examine the most effective tactical approach behind creating a just world for non-human animals. While Francione vehemently disagreed with the current trajectory of the animal rights movement, which he believes focuses on reducing rather than eliminating suffering, Friedrich argued that not supporting welfare reforms such as phasing out gestation crates proves speciesist since doing so does not adequately consider the interest of the animals currently suffering on factory farms. Friedrich also noted that the major animal advocacy organizations devote the vast majority of their time and energy to promoting veganism, not to supporting welfare reforms.
  • The Science of Animal Advocacy: Nick Cooney, author of the activist must-read “Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change,” explained the necessity of implementing conclusions from studies of behavioral science in animal advocacy. Some of Cooney’s main take-aways from his extensive research on behavioral studies include the efficacy of encouraging change that seems significant yet doable, making people think that everyone is engaging in a certain desired behavior, and focusing on educating people about how to go vegan rather than why to go vegan.

Though a whirlwind of emotions, contemplations, and never-ending schmoozing, the 2013 Animal Rights Conference proved a hugely valuable experience that I hope to have annually for years to come. Until next year’s event, though, I’d love to hear your thoughts on any and all of the topics I mentioned in today’s post.

Until next time, Ali.

A Weekend in NYC, Part 1: The NYC Vegetarian Food Festival

This weekend, U.S. VegCorp hosted the third annual New York City Vegetarian Food Festival at the Metropolitan Pavilion in the Chelsea neighborhood. After enviously listening to Erin Red recount her delightful experiences at last year’s festival on a past episode of her podcast, I rushed online to discover the dates of the 2013 event and vowed to attend. Luckily, my parents decided to rent an apartment in NYC from mid-February until the end of April, providing me with a convenient home base in the city and practically begging me to take advantage of all the vegan goodies and happenings NYC has to offer; frankly, the universe would have admonished me had I not patronized the veg fest this year.

Numerous reliable vegan sources stressed the value of purchasing a VIP ticket for the festival in order to avoid the up-to-four-hour-long line for entry into the venue. Indeed, my decision to heed their advice and shell out the most well-spent $30 of my life on a Sunday VIP ticket proved quite prudent—I bounded through the building’s glass doors, displayed my ticket to a smiling woman who awarded me with a specially market wristband, and threw myself into the torrent of enthused veg*n/veg-curious attendees, eager vendors, tantalizing noms, and cruelty-free fashions, eliciting a couple resentful glares, I’m sure, from those still standing outside in line.

Arriving at the festival around my lunchtime, I first paid a visit to the renowned vegan food truck The Cinnamon Snail, whose selection of baked goods rivals any of a traditional brick-and-mortar bakery (can you say lavender-pear turnovers, passionfruit-glazed donuts, and strawberry cheese danishes?). Unfortunately, none of these mouthwatering creations bore a gluten-free (or sugar-free, for that matter) label, but I certainly contented myself by ordering a Raw Goji Berry Bar to accompany my Fiery Southeast Asian Salad of kale, homemade kimchi, sliced fresh jalapenos, curried peanuts, and chili oil. Both vittles satisfied my tastebuds immensely—the goji bar harbored a mysterious coconutty-cashew flavor while the salad excited the palate with its fresh spiciness (though it did feature a tad too much chili oil for my liking).

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The Cinnamon's Snail baked goods case.

The Cinnamon’s Snail baked goods case.

Fiery Southeast Asian Salad.

Fiery Southeast Asian Salad.

After enjoying a lovely lunch, I began making my rounds about the festival. Immediately upon entering, I spotted the ice cream counter of DF Mavens—a coconut-based frozen treat free of gluten, soy, and (in the case of some flavors) sugar about which I had heard at the recent Ivy League Vegan Conference. The company has not yet launched their products into stores, but to give you a sneak peek, some of their tantalizing flavors include Sicilian Hazelnut Truffle, New Orleans Salted Praline, Alphonso Mango, and Peanut Butter Fudge Mash. Wowza.

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Free samples of DF Mavens.

Free samples of DF Mavens.

Oodles of jewelry-makers and clothing-crafters showcased their wares, including the well-known vegan t-shirt company Compassion Co., a woman who creates gorgeously unique bracelets out of dehydrated fruits and vegetables at Wired Up Creations, the rebellious Portland-based outfitter of Herbivore Clothing Company (positively thrilled to meet her, I basically fawned over owner Michelle Schwegmann, who has gained plenty of fame in my book thanks to Our Hen House), and an independent jeweler with no company name of which to speak but who provided lovely graphic pendants. An independent screen-printer stood next to the DF Mavens booth and enthusiastically demonstrated the screen-printing process at my confession that I’ve long yearned to learn how to screen-print.

One of Compassion Co.'s t-shirts emblazoned with, "Anything you can eat, I can eat vegan." Love it.

One of Compassion Co.’s t-shirts emblazoned with, “Anything you can eat, I can eat vegan.” Love it.

"Animal Liberation" pendant from an independent jeweler.

“Animal Liberation” pendant from an independent jeweler.

Stickers from Herbivore Clothing Company.

Stickers from Herbivore Clothing Company.

Original screen-print t-shirt design from the friendly independent screen-printing guy.

Original screen-print t-shirt design from the friendly independent screen-printing guy.

The festivals’ bounty of cosmetics included allegedly intensely healing face creams and serums derived from broccoli sprouts, as well as deliciously fragrant soaps from Fanciful Fox and Metropolis Soap Company

Broccoli sprout skin cremes.

Broccoli sprout skin cremes.

Soaps from Fancful Fox.

Soaps from Fancful Fox.

Of course, the festival couldn’t deem itself a food festival without an inordinate amount of yummies rampant throughout the convention hall. Though I didn’t snap a picture of every single food booth, I’ll provide you with a sampling:

"Raw Slaw" fermented veggies from Bao Fermented Food and Drink--they also sell home-brewed kombucha, sauces, and superfood shots.

“Raw Slaw” fermented veggies from Bao Fermented Food and Drink–they also sell home-brewed kombucha, sauces, and superfood shots.

I picked up a jar of Bao's Greens Raw Slaw, packed with kale, collard greens, dandelion greens, radish greens, apples, pears, ginger, and garlic.

I picked up a jar of Bao’s Greens Raw Slaw, packed with kale, collard greens, dandelion greens, radish greens, apples, pears, ginger, and garlic.

Vegan & gluten-free empanadas from Brooklyn's acclaimed V-Spot.

Vegan & gluten-free empanadas from Brooklyn’s acclaimed V-Spot.

The ever-popular Dandies marshmallows--gelatin-free!

The ever-popular Dandies marshmallows–gelatin-free!

Fryin' up some Field Roast sausages.

Fryin’ up some Field Roast sausages.

Pastel-hued cookies from Pipernilli Bakery.

Pastel-hued cookies from Pipernilli Bakery.

Cashew-and-coconut-based ice cream from the Raw Ice Cream Company (chocolate hazelnut, anyone?).

Cashew-and-coconut-based ice cream from the Raw Ice Cream Company (chocolate hazelnut, anyone?).

Monkey Boy peanut butter with banana extract and raisins from the Saratoga Peanut Butter Company

Monkey Boy peanut butter with banana extract and raisins from the Saratoga Peanut Butter Company.

Gorgeously frosted cupcakes from Pink Frosting Bakery.

Gorgeously frosted cupcakes from Pink Frosting Bakery.

Rehydrated dried fruit from Fruit Bliss--apparently, re-moistening dried fruit is all-the-rage in Europe!

Rehydrated dried fruit from Fruit Bliss–apparently, re-moistening dried fruit is all-the-rage in Europe!

Delectable and creamy Faux Gras, Basilcotta, and Superfood Pesto from the Regal Vegan

Delectable and creamy Faux Gras, Basilcotta, and Superfood Pesto from the Regal Vegan.

Spicy Mang roll from Beyond Sushi (for dinner later that night) with avocado, mango, cucumber, and black rice topped with spicy pickled veggies and toasted cayenne sauce.

Spicy Mang roll from Beyond Sushi (for dinner later that night) with avocado, mango, cucumber, and black rice topped with spicy pickled veggies and toasted cayenne sauce.

King-sized gluten-free cookies from Dauphin Bakery, included Ginger Spice Molasses. Mmm...

King-sized gluten-free cookies from Dauphin Bakery, included Ginger Spice Molasses. Mmm…

Three Fennel tea from Pukka Herbs. The woman behind the stand generously gave me three free tea bags of this blend, in which I have reveled for the past two days due to my ardent love of fennel.

Three Fennel tea from Pukka Herbs. The woman behind the stand generously gave me three free tea bags of this blend, in which I have reveled for the past two days due to my ardent love of fennel.

Vegan scallops (yes, you read right) from Sophie's Kitchen, made from Elephant Yam Root, aka Konjac. Fascinating!

Vegan scallops (yes, you read right) from Sophie’s Kitchen, made from Elephant Yam Root, aka Konjac. Fascinating!

Certainly my favorite aspect of the entire festival comprised of schmoozing with prominent vegan activists, bloggers, and authors whom I’ve long admired. Though I didn’t snap any photos with them, I also met the bloggers (Sharon and Dianne, respectively) behind Big City Vegan and VeggieGirl, two quite successful blogs in whose footsteps I hope to follow.

I've become quite a fan of Erin Red's podcast, Red Radio, and her special brand of no-nonsense activism. Honored to extend our relationship from Twitter to the real world!

I’ve become quite a fan of Erin Red’s podcast, Red Radio, and her special brand of no-nonsense activism. Honored to extend our relationship from Twitter to the real world!

Farm Sanctuary founder Gene Baur delivered an inspiring speech that touched upon effective animal advocacy among many other topics. His assertion that "being right is not the same as being effective" struck me as particularly important.

Farm Sanctuary founder Gene Baur delivered an inspiring speech that touched upon effective animal advocacy among many other topics. His assertion that “being right is not the same as being effective” struck me as particularly important.

Ximena and Derek from my all-time favorite yoga studio, Jivamukti, described the intrinsic connections between yogic philosophy and veganism.

Ximena and Derek from my all-time favorite yoga studio, Jivamukti, described the intrinsic connections between yogic philosophy and veganism.

Matt Frazier of the acclaimed No Meat Athlete blog showcased his merchandise and gave a talk on Saturday of the festival.

Matt Frazier of the acclaimed No Meat Athlete blog showcased his merchandise and gave a talk on Saturday of the festival.

I still cannot fathom how I managed to meet the legendary vegan author and lifestyle coach Victoria Moran.

I still cannot fathom how I managed to meet the legendary vegan author and lifestyle coach Victoria Moran.

Though I didn't manage to snag a photo of Miyoko Schinner, author of Artisan Vegan Cheese, I did sample some of her very own gourmet nut cheeses after her talk.

Though I didn’t manage to snag a photo of Miyoko Schinner, author of Artisan Vegan Cheese, I did sample some of her very own gourmet nut cheeses after her talk.

Of course, standby animal rights organizations like PETA, Mercy for Animals, Compassion Over Killing, and Sea Shepherd also made appearances at the festival, along with eastern farm animal sanctuaries like Woodstock and Catskill. I had the pleasure of meeting two immensely friendly COK volunteers who welcomed me with open arms when I informed them of my summer internship with the organization—further proof that the animal rights movement attracts the most generous, all-around wonderful human beings.

To round out my festival experience, I indulged myself in adding yet another vegan cookbook to my collection: the Ayurvedic Vegan Kitchen by Talya Lutzker. I haven’t yet had a chance to thoroughly examine the book’s recipes, but cannot wait to learn of the doshas and how to eat in order to best balance inner energy—like yoga and eating all rolled into one! From my quick flip through the book (which has sat on my Amazon Wishlist for quite some time now), all of the recipes feature only wholesome, unprocessed ingredients and include a host of raw, sugar-free desserts. My Ferry housemates will surely taste at least a couple of goodies inspired by this book!

After spending over three hours chatting, sampling, and handing out homemade Farmers Market Vegan business cards, I had thoroughly exhausted myself and decided to trek back uptown to my parents’ apartment before catching my train home to Vassar. Witnessing such a successful outpouring of vegans and omnivores alike (2,000 people attended the festival on Saturday alone) fostered within me such hope for a shifting mainstream consciousness toward a more compassionate, deliberate, conscious, and healthful lifestyle. The innovative products featured at the festival also aided in proving that leading a vegan lifestyle by no means entails sacrificing the joy of delicious food, chic fashion, and effective skin care. I fully intend to attend many more events similar to this one, with the third annual Veggie Pride Parade on Sunday, March 24th as the most upcoming one.

Stay tuned for a post detailing my meals at Candle Cafe West and Blossom on the Saturday before the festival (yes, I’m posting out of chronological order, but I wanted to recap the festival before recounting my fabulous meals).

Until next time, Ali.

The 2nd Annual Ivy League Vegan Conference: Part 2

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.

Rocky with her smoothie at Claire’s.

My yummy stir-fry bowl.

The biggest “side order” of sweet potatoes in existence.

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?

Wayne Pacelle speaking at the iV Conference.

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.

The 2nd Annual Ivy League Vegan Conference: Part 1

Though I shamefully acknowledge that my last post occurred far too long ago (more than an entire week without blogging? C’mon, girl!), I hope to duly justify my absense from the virtual vegan community by recounting the fabulously thought-provoking weekend I experienced with the real-life vegan community at the 2nd annual Ivy League Vegan Conference held at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Focusing on “analysis of the current state of veganism in relationship to specific academic disciplines,” the conference sought to “create an atmosphere of open expression and productive dialogue, where we can examine vegan activism and advocacy with an academic lens and challenge ourselves to do better; to take the next step; to alter our future course(s) of action and scholarship based on the wealth of progressive intellectualism that we shall apply to these issues.” To me, discussing veganism at such a prestigious institution and among an overwhelmingly intelligent group of individuals underscored the legitimacy of the movement—if up-and-coming scholars, renowned philosophers and health experts, and all-around well-educated people have deemed veganism as the lifestyle best suited for a socially aware, logical, fully conscious, and progressive mode of existence, then perhaps mainstream society would do well to question its general view of vegans as uneducated, radical hippies bent on liberating the world’s non-human animal population in order to unleash its fury upon the evils of a capitalism society. Or something like that.

My Elian adventure began on Friday afternoon with a two-hour drive to New Haven, shared with five fellow members of the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition. Arriving on the Yale campus right around dinner time, our group of famished vegan scholastics sought a hearty dose of nourishment, which the conference website suggested we could find in the comforting Ethiopian fare offered at Lalibela. Indeed, the impressive variety of warming, flavorful, and animal-product-free wats, rife with tender veggies and legumes, more than adequately satisfied our travel-induced hunger. Opting to share three two-person combo platters, the six of us sampled almost every dish on the vegan section of the menu. Beginning at 12:00 and progressing clockwise in the top photo, the mouthwatering stews included shuro, a puree of berbere-spiced chickpeas; fosolia, a well-seasoned mix of tender carrots, green beans, and onions; yemisir wat, slow-cooked lentils spiced with berbere; and kosta, a blend of silky spinach and hearty potato chunks. The bottom photo features shuro and fosolia on the top of the plate, while ater kik—meltingly tender yellow split peas—and gomen—collard greens cooked down in a flavorful sauce—sit below them. Unfortunately, Lalibela’s injera—a fermented flatbread that serves as the plates and utensils in Ethiopian cuisine—consists of wheat flour along with the traditional teff, so my gluten-free self happily filled up on the wats, of which the tangy fosolia appealed most to my tastebuds, and left my eager dining compatriates to devour the spongy, crepe-like bread.

Contentedly sated and excited to meet the ivy league vegan community, our VARC group ventured to the house of the Yale Animal Welfare Alliance co-director for a lively gathering of fellow conference-goers. After chatting with a number of iV leaders and vegan activists heavily involved in the animal liberation movement, including an intern for Compassion Over Killing’s law department and none other than Humane League founder Nick Cooney, my soon-exhausted self ventured, along with my fellow VARC-er and dear friend Katie, to the room of two Yale students who graciously volunteered to host us over the weekend. Needless to say, I fell asleep immediately upon contact with my makeshift yoga-mat-and-blanket bed, and dreamed of the bounty of vegan education and cameraderie to ensue on the following day.

Upon awaking and enjoying a premade green smoothie for breakfast on Saturday morning, Katie, myself, and Rachel—a fellow conference attendee sharing the Yale dorm room with us—strolled a short distance to New Haven’s celebrated vegetarian restaurant since 1975, Claire’s Corner Copia. While studying the conference schedule the previous evening, I noticed that Saturday’s lunch would consist of vegan pizza (read: not gluten-free), and opted instead to pick up my midday meal before heading to the conference from the wide array of wholesome salads, sandwiches, stir-fries, and roasted vegetable medleys offered at Claire’s, which MSNBC apparently named one of America’s ten heart-healthiest restaurants.

Claire’s deli case full of delectable vegan noms.

Rachel, myself, and Katie inside Claire’s.

Rachel, a graduate student studying Gastronomy (aka the coolest master’s degree I’ve ever heard of) at Boston University, united with the VARC-ers during the weekend of the conference and became fast friends with all of us. She’s interned at the California shelter of Farm Sanctuary, shares my ardent frustration with Michael Pollan, and has generously offered me a temporary home in Boston should I decide to visit Beantown in the near future.

The three of us arrived at the conference a bit after Eitan Fischer of the Yale Animal Welfare Alliance and Victor Galli of the Penn Vegan Society (a group boasting one of the most impressive student-organization websites I’ve ever seen) had begun their opening remarks. Victor, who appeared in Joshua Katcher’s article on up-and-coming vegan activists in the premiere issue of Laika Magazine, then introduced the leaders of the rest of the ivy league vegan organizations—Brown Animal Rights Club, Columbia Society for Animal Protection, Cornell Vegan Society, Dartmouth Animal Welfare Group, Harvard Vegan Society, and Princeton Animal Welfare Society.

With the formal introductions complete, the first talk of the conference began. Milton Mills, Director of Preventative Medicine at the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, effectively answered the question “Are Humans Designed to Eat Meat?” with a resounding “no” by comparing the physiology of humans to those of both carnivores and herbivores. Displaying that the body plan of humans parallels that of herbivores far more closely than that of carnivores—based primarily on skeletal composition, jaw structure, and digestive functioning—Dr. Mills shed light on the reasoning behind humans’ tendency to thrive on plant-based diets. He also introduced the interesting notion that carnivores specifically seek diseased animals upon which to prey—since they must expend far less energy to catch these weak creatures than to chase after a sprightly gazelle, for example—while herbivores scout out the healthiest-looking, most colorful foliage since it contains the most nutrients. To me, it seems far more sensible to imitate the herbivores and enjoy the rainbow-hued bounty of delicious plant food than to exploit weak animals and risk contracting their diseases by consuming them. But that’s just my humble opinion (oh, and that of a Stanford-educated MD, but no biggie).

Gidon Eshel, Professor of Environmental and Urban Studies and Physics at Bard College, delivered the final talk of the morning, entitled “The Environmental Effects of Diet.” Through his numerical examination of food production’s impacts on the physical environment, Dr. Eshel touched upon important statistical points of agriculture that cited agricultural development and animal grazing as counting for over 70% of species loss, small-scale agriculture as an extremely inefficient user of geophysical resources (read: grass-fed, pasture-raised meat is not the answer), and plant-based diets as requiring 0.27-0.41 less acres of land than omnivorous diets. While Dr. Eshel passionately instructed the audience to never eat cows due to the beef industry’s astoundingly negative impact on the environment, he concluded that if one must consume animal products, he or she should choose to eat eggs since they cause the least harm to the environment. However, since cows arguably suffer the least and egg-laying hens the most in animal agriculture, I would argue that we should simply ensure the best for both the environment and the treatment of animals by choosing not to partake in either.

After Dr. Eshel’s talk, I and the rest of the conference attendees broke for lunch, during which I enjoyed a scrumptious (yet unfortunately unpictured) salad from Claire’s consisting of baby spinach, mushrooms, red onions, cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, chickpeas, and half of an avocado tossed in a creamy tahini dressing, while my fellow VARC-ers reveled in their glutinous pizza.

Conference-goers enjoying vegan pizza.

Rachel posing with her pizza.

Saturday afternoon consisted of three more fascinating discussions on philosophy, animal-related career choices, and ag-gag laws, as well as dinner at Claire’s and the keynote speech from Yale alum and Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle. However, reflecting upon the lengthy post I’ve already scribed and preferring to leave you, dear readers, in suspense, I’ll save the second half of Saturday and the final conference events on Sunday for my next blog entry.

Until next time, Ali.

The First Annual Students for Critical Animal Studies Conference at Vassar College

Last Friday kicked off the 1st Annual Students for Critical Animal Studies Conference, hosted at my very favorite college (Vassar) by one of my very favorite groups of people (Vassar Animal Rights Coalition). Through the conference, VARC…

…aims to raise consciousness and prompt conversation among current students about the oppression of non-human animals. This will be achieved through examination of intersections between the domination of other animals and the domination of certain social groups. The conference will emphasize direct action strategies for both animal liberation and other social change movements, incorporating academic theory and praxis. Finally, this conference will launch “Students for Critical Animal Studies” — a new group with the goal of organizing student activists committed to animal rights into a larger community with formal ties — therefore aiming to strengthen bonds between student activists through social events and facilitated collaboration.

During the weekend, about 50 Vassar students, prominent animal rights activists, individuals heavily involved in an array of social justive movements, and a couple Canadian activists currently impacting consciousness at McGill University united for a variety of panels and workshops. Among the intriguing and provocative discussion topics included “Towards a Multispecies, Feminist and Decolonial Scientific Practice”; “Whose Category Is It Anyway? Farm Sanctuaries and the Future of Farm Animals”; and “Toward a Culture of Positive Peace: Why Animal Rights must be a Focus of the Modern Nonviolent Social Movement.” Though absolutely ecstatic that thought-provoking conversations like these would take place on my very own campus, I deeply regret not having even a smidgen of free time on either Saturday or Sunday to sit in on any workshops or panels. However, I eagerly attended the first night (Friday) of the conference, not to mention spent all day cooking dinner for the 40-60 people who came to the commencement of this exciting event. Perhaps I can look to a launching a vegan catering company in the future?

VARC info table at the conference.

For the dinner, myself and two fellow VARC members whipped up enormous batches of Dreena Burton’s Kale Slaw with Curried Almond Dressing; a tangy brown rice salad loosely based off of Bon Appetit’s Basmati Rice and Summer Vegetable Salad; a bathtub-sized pot of Laura’s French Lentil Soup with Tomatoes, Tarragon, and Garlic; and 125 of Leanne’s Candy Apple Macaroons.

Kale Slaw with Curried Almond Dressing

Brown Rice and Mixed Veggie Salad

Laying out macaroons for dessert.


After filling our bellies with enough tasty vegan noms to feed an army, I and the rest of the conference-goers settled in for the first talk of the conference, delivered by Breeze Harper, author of the Sistah Vegan anthology, via Skype. Her talk, entitled “‘Never Be Silent’ and Trayvon Martin: PETA, Neoliberal Whiteness, and Vegan Consumer Activism,” urged vegans to question the products they consume and whether or not they actually deserve the label of “cruelty-free,” such as tomatoes and chocolate—products that don’t contain the flesh and secretions of non-human animals, but that more often than not depend upon human slavery for their manufacture. While I agree vehemently that the compassion of our consumer choices should not end with purchasing animal-product-free goods, I don’t believe that we should simply stop consuming altogether, as Breeze seemed to argue later in her talk. If vegans remove their conscious consumerism from the economy, how else can we demonstrate a demand for truly ethical products? Personally, I would find it difficult to continue my activism if I didn’t believe that what I do or do not choose to consume would affect society on a level greater than that of the individual. Rather than attempt to remove ourselves completely from our capitalist system, we should fight within it to achieve our goals in a more realistic fashion.

VARC co-presidents Rocky and Daniel introducing the conference.

Conference attendees listening to Breeze’s Skype talk.

After we bade Breeze goodbye and ended our Skype chat, Anthony Nocella of Hamline University took the stage to deliver a presentation entitled “From Ableism to Racism in the Animal Liberation Movement: Promoting Eco-ability and Prison Abolition/Transformative Justice.” As I pondered Anthony’s words, which advocated for an incorporation of the rights of the disabled (or rather, individuals deemed disabled by society, as Anthony phrased it), I began to feel a bit overwhelmed—not only should I advocate on behalf of non-human animals, but my activism should now encompass workers rights, civil rights, a more meaningful fair trade label, the fall of capitalism, and the rights of the disabled? While all of these movements share commendable goals of ending discrimination and creating a more just society, I wondered if veganism should, or even functionally could, include such a broad spectrum of advocacy in addition to its primary intention of animal liberation. I find it quite exemplary that a great many individuals who live a vegan lifestyle extend their compassion beyond that of non-human animals, but worry that this all-encompassing view of veganism may perpetuate the lifestyle as intimidating and unachievable for non-vegans, thus preventing them from taking even the first step toward eliminating animal flesh and secretions from their diet. We should absolutely continue to fight in a variety of social justice movements, but do we really need to lump them all together under the label of veganism, thereby potentially blurring our movement’s main goal?

Anthony speaking.

Even though my hectic schedule permitted me to attend only two talks of the conference, they both left me with much to contemplate. I look forward to continuing these compelling conversations with my fellow VARC-ers, as well as hosting the second-annual conference next year. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of the musings I’ve posed in regards to the conference talks.

Until next time, Ali.