Prominent advocates of veganism and animal compassion from across the country gathered in Ida Noyes last weekend to assess the impact of food on humans, animals, and the world, and to encourage a healthy relationship among all three.
The conference focused on “conscious living,” which refers to a lifestyle that, shaped by an awareness of what one chooses to eat, attempts to balance animal rights, human bodies, and environmental concerns.
One of the speakers, Mia MacDonald, executive director of Brighter Green and Senior Fellow of the Worldwatch Institute, criticized factory farming and its harmful consequences for animals, the environment, and sustainable local and global development.
Factory farming—the practice of confining and raising farm animals at high stocking density—has become a global enterprise because of growing international demand for meat.
“That lifestyle will not be viable going forward. But what will we do?” she said, noting factory farming’s heavy contribution to the scarcity of vital natural resources and the increase in poverty worldwide.
“I would encourage us to find ways to dialogue—share informational resources—with groups of individuals around the world,” she said.
Milton Mills, associate director of preventative medicine for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, argued that humans are natural plant-eaters.
As he says to some of his patients, “You may eat meat, but I can prove to you that you don’t like it.”
Mills claimed that our innate aversion to violence and decaying flesh results from a hard-wired, unconscious feeling of disgust that people all over the world share. Cooking meat and using spices are methods we use to circumvent our disgust reflex, he said.
“We’re trying to make stuff we don’t like taste like stuff we do like,” he said.
Howard Lyman, another speaker, described his transformation from cattle rancher to vegan activist.
“Nobody wants to talk to me about my diet till I go to the bathroom,” he said. After being diagnosed with a tumor in his spine, he began thinking about his diet while his friends were searching for the best doctors to perform an operation to remove the tumor.
“We have to live within our environment,” he said, stressing that the world’s rising demand for meat is “destroying the animals, destroying the planet, and destroying our species.”
Another strong presence at the conference was the University of Chicago Vegan Society.
“At the University, vegetarianism is very, very prominent,” said Juliana Shulman, third-year in the College and an officer of the society.
The society was created five years ago, and its membership has since neared 100—evidence of what Shulman believes to be a positive trend among young people.
Conference organizers estimated that around 150 people attended the conference.