Vegan conference draws diverse crowd

This weekend, 120 Ivy League students converged on campus for the second annual iV: Ivy League Vegan Conference, which featured 14 speakers, a career fair and even a 5-year-old attendee dressed in a full-body cow suit.

Organized by a leadership team composed of representatives from all eight Ivy League universities, the conference drew a diverse group of participants ranging from academics to non-profit professionals seeking to engage with youth. The event featured speakers including president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States Wayne Pacelle, Yale philosophy professor Shelly Kagan and William Crouch, founder of the non-profit 80,000 hours. The 2013 conference, directed by Ilan Fischer ’13 and Victor Galli, a researcher at the Wharton Public Policy Initiative and 2012 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, was four times larger than the inaugural one held at Penn last year, Fischer said.

“Vegans get questioned all the time by people who don’t agree with us, and it’s amazing to be able to explore the arguments for veganism,” said Dartmouth sophomore Emily Reeves, who attended the conference. “I’m usually being told ‘humans are supposed to eat meat,’ so it’s nice to be around people who agree with me.”

The conference organizers said they hoped the event would raise the level of academic discourse about veganism, so they invited professors to share their research on the ethics, health and environmental impact of veganism. The conference’s opening discussion, held in William L. Harkness Hall, featured Milton Mills, director of preventive medicine at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, who presented his research demonstrating that humans are not biologically designed to eat meat. He said that societal pressures, such as marketing done by advertising agencies, are partially responsible for humans’ desire to eat meat.

“No one asks for pork chops and chicken tenders in the delivery room,” he said to the crowd. “People develop preferences as they get older and it’s in our power to develop healthier eating habits.”

Offering attendees a range of perspectives on veganism, the conference also featured speakers who do not advocate the practice. Yale School of Medicine neuroscientist Gordon Shepherd said that though he is not a vegan, he was persuaded to speak at the conference to share his research in a panel on plant-based diets and nutrition.

“The conference organizers wanted to present a lot of different views and not just preach to the converted,” Shepherd said.

The conference was not just a hub for academic discussion — it also offered students the opportunity to explore careers in vegan and animal-rights advocacy, and attracted a number of representatives from non-profits including the Humane League and Farm Sanctuary. Anne Dinshah of the American Vegan Society said the weekend offered her a valuable opportunity to look for interns among a passionate group of students.

Fischer said iV’s leaders spent the past nine months coordinating the conference and are currently planning the 2014 conference. While preparing for the event, he learned about attitudes toward veganism at various campuses. Though he said Yale Dining is “accommodating” to vegan students, he learned that Brown’s cafeteria offers vegan chicken tenders.

Jennifer Davidson, a Dartmouth sophomore who helped plan this year’s conference, said she hopes to incorporate more interactivity in the 2014 event.

“It was so satisfying to see everything come to fruition this weekend, but we’re also figuring out how next year we can involve more movement and have multiple sessions going on at once,” Davidson said.

Because the conference organizers wanted to show how veganism can be used to promote the public good, according to their press release, the weekend featured a discussion on college activism. Humane League representative Heather Arsenald said she learned a lot from students about initiatives she can implement in her own community.

The iV League consists of the Brown Animal Rights Club, the Columbia Students for Animal Protection, the Cornell Vegan Society, the Dartmouth Animal Welfare Group, Harvard Vegitas, the Penn Vegan Society, the Princeton Animal Welfare Society and the Yale Animal Welfare Alliance.

Correction: Feb. 21

A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that conference co-director Victor Galli is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania. In fact, Galli graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2012 and is currently a researcher at the Wharton Public Policy Initiative.

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