As the world is losing hope about the US taking any kind of leading role on the world’s most pressing global issues like environmental protection and climate change, students of America’s top universities spread a strong positive message last weekend by hosting the Ivy League Vegan Conference at Harvard University. And no, it wasn’t a bunch of rich students telling each other how awesome they are being a vegan. It also wasn’t a group of skinny, pale, sandal-wearing hippies. This conference was characterised by the large diversity of people attending, as well as the number of topics and open discussions that took place. Some speakers were even so brave to admit to an audience full of plant-eaters that they enjoy eating meat from time to time!
For me, this event was perfectly timed as I have just moved to Boston for a neuroimaging internship at the Martinos center for my MSc. Neuroscience at the Vrije Universiteit (VU). I’ll be studying the effects of meditation on the brain, so if you’re interested in this subject, stay tuned for future blog posts. Last spring, I got involved with the Green Living Lab when I followed their Green Student Bootcamp Challenge programme. I loved the experience so much that I joined the GLL team, where I’ve since helped to organise events and give tours of the location.
Now that I’m an ocean away from the GLL itself, I’ve taken up the role of reporting as the GLL foreign correspondent in the US! Volunteering with the GLL allows me to express my interest in how lifestyle choices impact global issues like sustainability and inequality.
After making these connections perhaps it is not surprising to learn that I am vegan. So by getting the chance to attend this conference just after my arrival in the US, as the Dutch would say, ‘I fell with my nose in the butter’ (= super lucky). Or, in this case, I fell in the vegan margarine.
Organised by the Harvard Vegan Society, the conference was part of a series of vegan conferences of peer organisations from other universities. The purpose of the conference is nicely summarised by the Vegan Society’s president Nina Gheihman, a PhD candidate and affiliate at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs:
“The conference explores a truly fascinating question: could a plant-based diet be a single, elegant solution to the pressing global issues caused by an increasing population with diminishing natural resources?”
A fully-packed program included talks and discussion panels on a wide range of topics concerning humans, animals, and the earth. Perspectives came from scientists, engineers, investors, and activists. In the breaks, delicious meals were served by various local chefs and caterers. And this was gratefully received, since there is little that can make a vegan happier than getting to eat everything in the buffet.
One of the goals of the conference was to serve as a networking platform for all people seeking to learn how they can live healthy and conscious lives. During Saturday night’s reception, environmentalists and animal rights advocates mixed with some fit and healthy people to chat about their common values and passions. This mix of perspectives sometimes led to funny conversations. I saw a girl handing a flyer about animal rights to a co-attendant, who responded: “could I just take a picture of it? I’d rather not use any unnecessary paper”. Myself? I ended up in an all-vegetarian (can-be-made-vegan) typical American diner with my new plant-eating friends.
On Sunday afternoon I left the venue feeling inspired, complete with a long list of places to visit, initiatives to look up, and new friends to connect with. Thank you to the Harvard Vegan Society for this fruitful (pun intended) event!