Thursday, March 20, 2014

iV: (my experience at the) Ivy League Vegan Conference

I found out about this past February's iV: Ivy League Vegan Conference, held at Princeton University, quite by accident- which is unusual since I'm a member of their target audience: an Ivy-affiliated vegan.  I didn't previously know anything about the organization or their outreach, but none of the ivy-affiliated vegans I know had a clue about it either.  So, I spread the word as best that I could, signed up to attend, and hoped for the best.


Once registered, there was minimal contact from the "iV Conference Planning Team."  So minimal, in fact, that I hadn't realized that the schedule had finally been posted to the website until I received an email one day prior to the event notifying me that it had been changed.  Due to an impending storm, the 3-day long conference had been shortened to 2: now expected to begin midday Friday (inconvenient for 9-5ers) and end early Saturday evening.  I can't tell you if the adjustment meant simply that all of the speakers and panelists were condensed or if any were cut, but I did immediately notice that there didn't seem to be any social events on the schedule, as is the norm for networking purposes at such academic conferences.  In any event, to add insult to injury, by the time Friday rolled around the following day it was both obvious and reported that the storm would completely pass us by.

Day 1:
I was able to take time off from work so that I could attend the Friday portion of the foreshortened conference, for which sign-in was expected to begin at 1:00pm.  I arrived at the designated Princeton University building shortly thereafter, only to find zero indication that I was in the right place.


Once inside, still nothing.


When I turned the corner I could finally see the iV insignia projected on a screen in the distance; I had made it to the right place after all.


However, there was no one welcoming attendees or confirming registration.
 

No one to hand out the programs,
 

no one to offer the Jill Milan "gift cards" (which were actually percentage-off coupons),
 

and no one to explain whether the Health Warrior chia bars were for sale or sample.
 

So, after about 25 minutes of nothing, I helped myself.
 

I tried the chocolate peanut butter chia bar first; I think it's the only chocolate peanut butter anything I've ever tried and not liked.
 

When 2:00pm rolled around and the conference had yet to start, I helped myself to a coconut chia bar which was a vast improvement.


I believe it was about 2:15 when the lead organizer finally addressed the room: to state the obvious, that we'd be starting later than expected.  He said it was because one of the panelist's travels had been delayed...due to sun glare. So things were not exactly getting off to a very smooth start.

However, it was at this point that I noticed the hair adornment on the woman in front of me and recognized it as the work (and head) of none other than Michelle Leon!  With her in front of and animal rights' attorney Doris Lin behind me, I was in good company; things seemed to be looking up.


Finally, the conference began: with the panel "Northeast Entrepreneurs in Packaged Food and Retail."  The speakers were a mixed bag of vegan business owners/employees: Joel Henry, Fig Food Company CEO;  


Joseph Holder, Health Warrior Northeast Marketing Manager; Michael Schwarz, Gardener Cheese Company/Treeline Treenut Cheese CEO; Arshad Bahl, Amrita Health Foods CEO; and Peter Kidd, Marquis &Co/HipCity Veg Legal Counsel.


The email I'd received just prior to the conference interestingly included this notice:
"Since this is an academic and professional conference (and not an identity-based conference), we ask that you keep questions to speakers, panelists, and your fellow attendees as topic-driven as possible. We ask that you avoid questions about anyone's lifestyle, eating habits, or personal choices."

At the time I hadn't been certain if this meant that they did not advise discussing being vegan with speakers or amongst fellow attendees.  However, when it became obvious that not all of the panelists were vegan, I decided that it must have been a warning in order to avoid the inevitable questions that would arise with regard to working for and promoting a vegan company as a non-vegan. But, it didn't come up. 

The panelists spoke about the generalities of beginning and building a small business, then earnestly described the specifics of how niche items play into the already difficult process.  Michael Schwarz emboldened everyone by sharing that he had grown up in apartheid South Africa where they thought things would never change, but they did.  It was the single most inspiring analogy I think I've ever heard with regard to the future of veganism.

The question and answer segment was terrific- with an important discussion about the cost of specialty items being respectfully addressed.  It was interesting to learn that if you price specialty items too low, they sell less because people equate cost with quality.  Joel Henry posed, "Am I making vegan, organic soup for rich people?  I hope not." and explained that Americans work most in the world and don't have time to cook for themselves.  He encouraged attendees to support these smaller, vegan companies so they can grow enough for the price to eventually decrease.

The highlight of the panel, for me, was when Michael Schwarz respectfully disagreed with the ethos Peter Kidd described when he explained that Hip City Veg does not market itself as "vegan" in advertisements, literature, or within the restaurant.  "I'm proud of being vegan; cater to your base and then expand."  I knew the man made exquisite cheese, but he was quickly becoming a vegan hero. 

At the end of this panel there was a short break, but no refreshments.  A break without refreshments?  If that's the case you may as well skip the break entirely, in my opinion.  Is it truly possible that no vegan-friendly Princeton-area restaurants would have contributed to this event?  Because it was now dinner time and there was nothing on offer to eat or drink- either complimentary or for sale.  People started pounding the chia bars like peanuts; the soundtrack of the break was a cacophony of crinkling wrappers.  It was exceedingly generous of Health Warrior to have provided so many bars, but I'm not quite sure that this was the ideal scenario for them to have been consumed.

And then the second panel began- also sans refreshments and/or water for the panel or attendees.  When one panelist coughed and mentioned that his throat was dry, it was uncomfortable and actually quite embarrassing.  David Benzaquen, CEO of PlantBased Solutions, and Jody Rasch, SVP at Moody's Corporation presented "Current Topics in Vegan Finance, Microfinance, and Investment Funds."


Jody was engaging as he talked about investing specifically in animal-friendly endeavors and the possibility of having a social performance department that could rate companies from a social standpoint.  David offered an interesting perspective by relaying an experiment that tried to even the playing field for fresh fruits and vegetables by giving them the same opportunities afforded junk food marketed by huge corporations.  He spoke of marketing companies focusing on non-veg consumers because they will incite the most change, while admitting that veg consumers bring repeat and consistent business, a willingness to pay a premium, and act as citizen brand ambassadors without much or any marketing.  I took all of this to mean that vegans are a built in customer base that don't require much marketing to in order to be a huge part of a company's business.  While probably true, I'm pretty sure I'm a tad offended by the notion; vegans are a specific and opinionated lot: you don't want to underestimate them or take their business for granted.  Overall, the conversation was a bit more lively than it had been earlier- perhaps because everyone was fortified by mass quantities of chia.

And, I would be remiss if I didn't mention David's swank Brave Gentleman shoes, which I was admiring much of the evening.


But, I digress.  Once the panel ended, an abbreviated career/networking fair commenced in the narrow hallway that had led up to the conference room.  If memory serves, the companies that participated in the first panel were all represented, along with peta2, The Humane League, and Lantern Books; I was surprised not to see a broader range of representation considering the presumed intended audience.

Amrita wasn't nearly as generous as Health Warrior; they seemed to put a single sample on the table at a time.  Unfortunately, the sample available when I passed was the apple cinnamon endurance bar (I'd been angling for chocolate maca).  I did not like the apple cinnamon in the least, but should note that I saved it- minus one bite, for VM and she thought it was delicious. I purchased the chocolate maca a few days later and am happy to report that it was significantly better.


Treeline gave out some of their amazing products; it was surprising to me how many people had never tried it before.  It did make me cringe to see the ravenous attendees eating the exquisite hard cheese wheels like candy bars: unwrapping them halfway and taking a bite, or breaking a hunk off to share with their friends.  For such a refined product, the consumption was utter blasphemy.  But people were practically starving by this point; what else are you gonna do when there's awesome vegan cheese in your face?  Michael was kind enough to give me a tub of their exquisite soft cheese to take home.


A little later, a group went over to the student center where a casual counter-service restaurant called Cafe Vivian purported to offer "organic, sustainable, and local food."  The vegan options available were cheeseless pizza, a hummus sub, or a "salad bar" of pre-packaged Macro-Vegetarian products you can find in NYC bodegas and 7-Eleven.  It's my understanding that these offerings are always available at Cafe Vivian; it seemed that no special selections had been made available for the event (no word on whether or not additional options had been requested, but the employees seemed not to have expected the sudden onslaught of vegans).  I passed on the fair fare and went instead to the local Whole Foods to pick up some crackers for my cheese, which trumped any of the options I could have chosen at the cafe.


Day 2 began in a different building, but still no sign.


However, unlike day 1, there was a surely well-intentioned, though messily presented, brunch spread.  Points for the vegan cream cheese assortment, but the supermarket bagels and vegetable trays alternately screamed, "I barely tried," and, "An omnivore thinks this is what vegans eat."  Once again, I was left feeling that the conference committee hadn't considered the community resources available to them and, in turn, had done a disservice to the surrounding businesses with the missed opportunity.

Further, the online conference schedule had said that an "exhaustive list" of vegan-friendly eateries would be provided, but if it was I certainly never saw it. A few day's prior to the conference, an email from the organizers included this information.

If you have any severe dietary allergies or limitations, we recommend that you bring supplemental food with you. We will work to ensure each person's food situation is stable; however, we ask that you prepare to be in a town that historically has had limited success in accommodating a wide variety of eating styles.

"Limited success in accommodating a wide variety of eating styles?"  While I certainly wouldn't want to have to find sustenance in P-town on a regular basis, there is no shortage of vegan options to sustain and even wow you for just a few days.  Within walking distance there is a Qdoba and a vegan-friendly coffee shop, Small World.  Two new friends told me they'd enjoyed a fabulous vegan breakfast at nearby, vegan-friendly infiti-T Tea Cafe, and the Princeton Whole Foods was massive and closeby.  The local coffee shop offered a mean, pre-packaged kale/chickpea salad, and there's a health food store with an all-vegetarian deli within walking distance of campus, not to mention the vegan options at the local ice creamery The Bent Spoon.  Surely there were better options on offer in Princeton, if only they'd been researched.


When it was (past) time for the "Academic Programming" small sessions to start, I unfortunately noticed that it was, again, much more meagerly attended than I would have expected.  I thought the previous day had been light on attendees due to the timing, but roughly 40 people in a room fit to hold 250 isn't exactly bolstering to a vegan crowd.


There was a "The Global Diet & Sustainability: Multi-country Perspectives" talk by Mia MacDonald and Sangamithra Iyer, but my friend and I decided to attend "Combating Common Diseases With Plant-based Nutrition" by Michael Gregor.  If you can believe it, I've never heard Michael Gregor speak live before (this doesn't count); I was impressed by both the content and the dynamic delivery of his presentation.


He talked a lot about the highest causes of death- suggesting it's best not to get sick at all because it mostly boils down to doctors, hospital accidents, and prescription drug side affects; the supporting information was positively chilling.


Ultimately, no medication has come close to a vegan diet to demonstrate success.  However, while diet significantly affects the occurrence and progression of disease, nobody profits monetarily from a plant-based prescription.


For lunch break, it was recommended that attendees return to Princeton's Frist Student Center.  Not for more Cafe Vivian, as they are apparently closed on Saturdays; instead, for food from the student dining hall.  The best vegan option we found there was, yet again, cheeseless pizza.   We- an old friend and two new from UPenn, instead opted to take the 15 minute walk to Whole Earth Center, Princeton's health food store showcasing an all-vegetarian deli.  We collectively enjoyed flavorful soups, sandwiches, and salads before heading back to the conference.

It was an iV miracle: a sign had finally been posted to the door.


The mystery of who the conference attracted vs. intended to attract deepened as my friend and I overheard this conversation between two young men we hadn't seen before now seated behind us:

Man 1: Are you vegan?
Man 2: No.
Man 1: Yeah; I was for a year.  It was hard.
Man 2: I like butter too much.
Man 1: Butter's good.

In what may have admittedly been a tad over-zealous, I implored these two to please go vegan; "There's vegan butter!" I wailed, but was told "It's hard in the dining hall."  I've actually been a guest in some of Princeton's Residential College dining halls in the past- where I've enjoyed Pho, tofu milanese, an entire spread of vegan dessert, etc.; this was an awfully flimsy and, frankly, lazy excuse not to live compassionately.  More egregious though, was that we were now closer to the end than to the beginning of the conference and these two young men hadn't learned to put some effort into combating speciesism; it was disheartening to say the least- especially when they moved their seats.  If they simply ignore what makes them uncomfortable, how can we expect the younger generation to incite change?

Breeze Harper began the keynote, "Oppositional Bodies of Knowledge: A Black Feminist Perspective on Race, Gender, and Embodiment in Vegan Politics," with a Civil Rights-era song: "We are the ones we've been waiting for."  It was unique, calming, and quite beautiful.  Incongruous was the camera she had set up recording her every word, which also kept her pinned to the podium for the duration of her talk.  That, coupled with the fact that much of her keynote was made up of her reading directly from her dissertation, made for a less-than dynamic presentation that hindered her ability to connect with the audience.


She explained that she is often accused of race-baiting, so purposefully comes to "white-based" institutions (this might be news to diversity-centric Princeton) and began her speech by clarifying that when she uses the term "white," she refers to anyone who acts colonial.

She spoke a little about her path to veganism through Queen Afua's Sacred Woman, but mainly about how PETA's guides for animal-product substitutes are geared towards white America.  For instance, when they recommend, "Frozen burger crumbles make veganizing grandma’s spaghetti sauce or secret meat loaf recipe a snap," she posits that they are speaking exclusively to white America, for whom grandmas did make spaghetti or have a meat loaf recipe- whereas other cultures' grandmas did not.

I'm still processing my thoughts on the subject, but here are the points I've been coming back to: One, PETA is notorious for not updating the vast amount of information on their site; this could very well have been written decades ago.  Two, how many grandmas actually cook these days anyway?  Three, with so much of the country gentrified- good or bad, spaghetti is probably one of the most American dishes I can think of that isn't always already vegan.  And four, is this really the best use of a vegan's time: nit-picking possibly race/culture-specific/exclusive language?  I really can't imagine that someone who grew up on kimchi and rice would dismiss veganism solely because PETA neglected to include their personal, cultural foods in their literature.

Ultimately, Dr. Harper maintained that there is no universal way to talk about veganism.  But, I wholeheartedly disagree; compassion is universal

A few days before the event we'd received an email from the conference planning team that included language regarding dress code.

All attendees are expected to wear business casual at all times. This is an academic and professional conference environment. If this presents a major barrier for you, please contact...to discuss arrangements.
    • Examples: blouses, slacks, skirts, dark-wash jeans, blazers, button-ups, polos, professional footwear
    • Do not wear: t-shirts, light-wash jeans, tennis shoes/sneakers
I glazed over it, thinking only that it was odd.  But, it turned out that it was received rather offensively by many.  One casually but neatly dressed gentleman in particular was reminded of the dress code on Friday, after being looked up and down rudely.  However, on the second day someone entered the keynote wearing a dark sweater emblazoned with the word "bitch" in large, white, block letters and did not seem to receive any admonition.  I realize that we are all adults and may wear what we please, but when you dictate and attempt to enforce a dress code, it is necessary that you do so equally and appropriately once you've opened yourself up to it.

My friend and I agreed to skip Matthew Hayek's session, "The Climate of Animal Farming: A Critical Evaluation of Pollution from Agriculture" in lieu of the panel, "How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain."  Gregory Berns began by explaining how he chose to focus his research on studying animals in a non-invasive way and explained that when it comes to research, while IRB (Institutional Research Board: human subjects) considers risk benefit, IACUC (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee: animal subjects) does not.  He then showed us a short documentary on his research, which involved more dogs than people, so everyone enjoyed.  His research raises many reasons, from a biological point of view, for why we must reconsider the treatment of dogs as property (although doesn't get into why we should stop with dogs).  "If we went a step further and granted dogs rights of personhood, they would be afforded additional protection against exploitation. Puppy mills, laboratory dogs and dog racing would be banned for violating the basic right of self-determination of a person."  Interesting in and of itself, let alone from a neuroscience perspective.


What followed was a riveting and entertaining critique of non-vegan Berns' book and research from a vegan perspective by Sherry F. Colb and Michael Dorf.  My only complaint was that all panelists continuously referred to an op-ed by Berns that I wasn't familiar with at the time, but I recommend as worth the read.


Unfortunately, the revision of the conference's agenda meant that the final meal of the day was cancelled and replaced with what was supposed to be fifteen minutes of closing remarks that amounted to a simple, anti-climactic, non-resolution of a dismissal, "That concludes the conference."

At this point attendees verbally scrambled for suggestions on what to do/ where to go/ options for eating nearby; my friend and another vegan we'd met at the conference decided to go to Cross Culture, a short drive away.   After the limited food options over the course of the two-day conference, we all cleaned our plates.


While we did so, we also discussed the conference.

Despite the obvious lack of organization, we agreed the information gleaned was worthwhile.  However, we still shared an overall confusion as to whether the conference was intended to be a think tank exclusively for vegans, or an informative event for all interested parties.

And then we three "ivy-affiliated vegans" brainstormed the question of elitism, since regardless of the persuasion of the intended audience, proof of ivy-affiliation was required for registration [UPDATE 3/28/14: To clarify, non-Ivy affiliates had the opportunity to submit an application to attend the conference].  If it was intended to be an "elite" think tank: was it successful?  Did it plant a seed in busy, educated folks for furthering their activism?  Or, was it just an alienating, missed opportunity on a vastly open-minded, liberal, predominantly forward-thinking campus?  I ran into a handful of vegan, Princeton University students at an un-related event some weeks later and they had no idea the conference had even taken place at their University.  Surely they were the target audience, so how were they missed entirely?

I'm interested to see what this conference has in store for the future, but since I've received no post-conference survey or any follow-up correspondence whatsoever, it would seem that the organizers aren't exactly seeking feedback, let alone suggestions for improvement.  Perhaps it is a matter of elitism.  In introducing the iV journal, Vault, and calling for submissions, the conference organizer made an off-hand dig at blogs by stressing to the audience of prospective contributors to keep in mind that it was a JOURNAL, not a BLOG.  I'm not saying there isn't room for both, but it was not only an unnecessarily condescending remark, but also a short-sighted one.  Never underestimate the power of a blog- they are usually written in earnest and reach many more people than an academic journal.  Ultimately, veganism should be about including, not excluding.  I'm glad that this conference exists; I'd love to see it become more inclusive overall.

27 comments:

  1. Aside from the content (which I also enjoyed), the other positive aspect of this conference was connecting with and meeting new friends with the same passions. But darn, yeah, the iV conference could be so much better (and larger in scope and attendance) had more thought been put into its logistics.

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  2. Having the pleasure of attending Saturday's event, I can say that you were overally kind to both Dr. Harper and Dr. Berns. While good natured, Dr. Berns' presentation was incredibly boring... almost painfully boring.

    Dr. Harper was dry (as most academics are) but more to the point, she was all over the place and her work was both disappointing and as you hinted, pointless. She claims it is impossible to live a compassionate life, because even if you go vegan, you probably still eat slavery produced chocolate - to be fair she admitted she does (to be less than fair, she was reading off an ipad).

    Also, the conference organizer was pretentious at best, and obnoxious the rest of the time. When we wasn't on staring at his phone (while on stage during presentations) he was monopolizing the Q&A sessions.

    I think a vegan academic conference is a great idea, but keeping it closed to the vegan community is silly and limiting it even further to just Ivy League vegans is near worthless. Dr. Greger easily could have filled that auditorium, instead he spoke to 30 or so people.

    Finally, I should add that I'm slightly bitter because I wondered around the campus for 30 minutes in the freezing cold (seriously it was only 20 and windy!) before finally finding the right place.

    The conference needs much work in my opinion. Dinner at Cross Culture was the highlight for me.

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  3. I didn't even know you were going to this! Interesting. Thanks for the report! The wouldn't have even let me in though because I went to state school. :-)

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  4. How bizarre and frustrating this all sounds!
    I guess all the school funds are otherwise allocated, leaving only a small window for bagels.
    I am a fan of Breeze Harper and I'm glad she was included, especially since it gets so tiring to just hear men, men, men speak. maybe some of her points were a little off but I think it's important to hear a variety of opinons.
    Sounds like the highlight was the cheese.
    Did you go to Princeton?

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  5. well this is a cross section of humanity I will never intersect with. very interesting to know this event happened. not saying i'm sorry i missed it or wouldn't be qualified to attend, but i do think my iq may have gone up a 1/2 point from just reading your synopsis.

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  6. Wow. As a non-ivy league educated vegan, I'm kind of offended. I knew about the conference through a friend, but he sort of indicated that I should come. How could I do that if it was only open to ivy league students and alumni? How exactly does my very expensive education somehow leave me less worthy of attending something like this? Overall, this really turns me off. I don't think I'd go to some elite conference like this even if I was invited.

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  7. Thanks for the comprehensive review of a conference in which I would be unwelcome to participate, since none of the three schools I attended were ivy league. My bad, I guess. It sounds like the conference could have used an actual IV — of enthusiasm and humor. Were the organizers forced to create, advertise, and prepare for the event against their will? You wonder what the conference has in store for the future, and that's a good question. What are the organizer's goals, and how do they hope to achieve them? And how will they know if they have, so as to better plan for the future?

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  8. Thanks for sharing! I had seen a couple of emails about the conference but did not pay too much attention. As a Penn-alum, I think it's pretty silly to open it to ivy-league alumni only. Very close-minded and defeats half the ideals of veganism to my mind. It does sound like the organisation needs some help. No food and water, even for speakers? Yikes! Here's hoping for improvement in the future.

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  9. Great summary. Sounds really disorganised, but a great opportunity to get together with other vegans (and others) and talk about all these issues. What a pity the food wasn't organised properly - it's usually the highlight of these kinds of events!

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  10. Wow - talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. All the problems with it were so solvable it just seems like someone couldn't be bothered. Still, at least the presentations were solid!

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  11. 1. Thank you for the link to Berns' piece; I wasn't aware of it.

    2. So jealous you got to hear Dr. Gregor present!

    3. Your photo of the grocery store-bought bagels and juices made me sad.

    4. In all seriousness, thank you for this recap. I wasn't aware that these kinds of vegan conferences (or: what this one should have been) even existed; I'm always focused on animal law conferences. I hope this conference does a better job in the future! So much squandered potential.

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  12. Thanks for your feedback about my talk. I appreciate it. It is unfortunate that the content of what I said was experienced by you as pointless. I have been working on trying to translate my dissertation findings for a lay audience and I know with more and more practice I will become better. In addition, I posted the video of my talk on my blog and posted a video BEFORE that, explaining what it's like to fly across country with a newborn, while sleep deprived and nursing on demand and how that affects the work that I do. I apologize for this and that you did not enjoy what I had to offer. I am hoping next time to reconsider what it means to try to have a career and take my children with me (since I can't afford nanny over night care).

    Breeze Harper

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  13. I record every one of my talks, and then blog about them, so people can experience it for themselves. Here is the link to that video with ANOTHER video I took, after the conference, that explains what it's like to travel across country with a newbown baby, as a woman who nurses on demand and must work because (1) she enjoys it and (2) she needs to earn income to support her family and cannot take a long extended maternity because of financial obligations. Here is the link to those videos on a blog posting I tittled "How I Got to the Podium: Ivy League Vegan Conference, Breastfeeding in Public, and Being Professional" (http://sistahvegan.com/2014/02/13/how-i-got-to-the-podium-ivy-league-vegan-conference-breastfeeding-in-public-and-being-professional/)

    Even though my Princeton talk may have not been my best, appeared to be dry and unable to connect to the audience, I have given many other talks in which the audience received very well and warmly. Here is a different way of be trying to present at last week's conference at UC Berkeley. Thankfully, I did not have to take my newborn with me or my 2 other preschoolers. In addition, it was great that I got sleep the night before (a rarity that all 3 children sleep rather well). http://sistahvegan.com/2014/03/19/video-scars-of-suffering-and-healing-a-black-feminist-perspective-on-intersections-of-oppression/

    I am always grateful for the medium of social media, I get to learn how people receive the work that I do as well as how I communicate it. I know not everyone agrees with what I have to say or even how I say it. I just know that I can only do my best and learn from the comments that people have about what I have dedicated my life to doing.

    Best
    Breeze

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  14. I wanted to elaborate on my above comment...

    I was at this conference for the entire first day, not including dinner at the dining hall (I work at another ivy university and am generally unimpressed with dining hall fare), and I also attended the first half of the second day. Mostly, I left early because I had to get home to my no-electricity and deal with that because this conference took place after the big ice storm.

    For the first day, I was on the edge of my seat during the presentations. I found David Benzaquen's talk on vegan marketing to be particularly engaging. And Michael Schwarz, of Treeline Cheese, made me love their product even more with his optimism about the future of veganism in the world. I was also fortunate to end up sitting near some of the most interesting and outgoing vegans I've met, Abby included. The second day, I enjoyed Michael Gregor's presentation and took massive amounts of notes in order to watch his videos later. I didn't stay for much more, so that's all I have to comment on content. Basically, the content I got to see was really fantastic. I'll have to bookmark Breeze Harper's talk and watch it later (thank you, Breeze for adding the link).

    While the content was great, the logistics seemed to be an afterthought. The logistical problems are something I think the conference organizers could overcome. A few small things would have made all the difference and taken this conference to the next level: nametags, a check-in desk with a person or two, food and water (either for free or for sale), and signs. Perhaps this was all done on a shoestring budget, but those items aren't that expensive and could probably be obtained via donations from advertisers. It's work. I've been a co-chair of a 300-person conference, so I know how much planning time goes into it.

    The other main issue is that this was open to ivy league attendees only. Future conferences would benefit from being open to the public.

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  15. Just so misinformation is not spread around, this conference was open to ivy league affiliated people and non-ivy league affiliated people. It was not an exclusive event. I am wondering how or why this event was thought to be for Ivy League students, staff, and professors only. Can someone point to me where this was said on the registration form?

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  16. Erin- I totally agree: I had the opportunity to meet new friends and hope to hear that the conference improves in the future.

    BYOL- it sounds like you have a lot to say on the subject as well; would be great to hear your thoughts in totality on Bring Your Own Lentils.

    Stacy- It's my understanding that non-ivy folks had to "apply" to attend. You still have a chance for the next one!

    foodfeud- You raise an interesting point about Breeze, but when a woman's content is critiqued and her response is somewhat defensive about the difficulty of raising children while presenting at conferences I'm left a bit perplexed.

    The Shenandoah Vegan- Thanks! Oddly enough, the internet is abuzz with self-proclaimed "academics" who, oddly, have never heard of the term critique and have dubbed this post "complaining for the sake of complaining." As I was quite complimentary on the whole, I'm sure you can guess that those responsible for the missed opportunities would be the loudest to protest. It's my understanding that non-Ivy affiliates had to submit an application for attendance, so there may be an opportunity in your future!

    Molly- I will make it clearer in the piece, but non-Ivy affiliates had to submit an application to attend. Either way, the organizers did a horrible job of promoting the conference, as evidenced by the poor turnout, which was extremely disproportionate to the caliber of those speaking.

    Andrea- See above. Right now the organizer's goals seem to be to complain that I've deigned to point out any shortfalls, so you can see how arrogance can repeatedly get in the way of improving what could be a great event.

    Joy, i'm glad to hear that you heard about the conference since it was a pretty well kept secret.

    Linda, and the easiest way to make people happy! If your audience is full of grumbling stomachs, they're not happy!

    Joey, I thank you profusely for seeing my point entirely;it seems to have been missed by many responsible for the conference!

    windycityvegan, Right? The Berns' piece is definitely a huge step in the right direction; apparently it was very controversial. Animal testing and anti-vivisection activism definitely needs to come back to the forefront. I'd love to hear more about the conferences you've attended.

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  18. Breeze, thanks for reading the recap of my experience at the conference. If you'll review, you'll note that I most certainly did not describe your content as "pointless;" I believe you may have inadvertently ascribed another attendee's comment on this post to me.

    As a member of the "lay audience" you describe, I neither interpreted your presentation as having suffered from sleep-deprivation, or found your findings in any way unclear; I just don't necessarily agree that it is the best form of activism, which perhaps isn't your intent. I know I am always striving to be a a better proponent for compassion and non-violence towards non-human animals; I assume that as a fellow vegan you are too.

    I am a bit perplexed by your repeated references to caring for your family, as my critique has nothing to do with your personal life. I respect that most people- both in general and within the activist community, have responsibilities and interests aside from their work.

    Finally, I understand that my inference about the conference's intended audience was misinterpreted, so I have updated my post to reflect that non-Ivy affiliates were permitted to apply for attendance to the conference.

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  19. Huh. My husband is an Ivy undergrad alum, a current Princeton grad student, and we're both vegans. We live 20 minutes away from campus Would have loved to have attended, if we'd known about this.

    ...or maybe not. The idea of having to "apply" to sit in the audience and rub shoulders with the Ivy-affiliated is, frankly, offensive. I can see requiring pre-registration as a security measure, but pre-screening for pedigree? I went to a fancy-pants SLAC, so I guess I'd be green-lighted to breathe the Ivy air, but I feel like I'm a little old to be sorted out by my undergrad affiliation.

    (Though I went to a state school for my master's. Oh horrors.)

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  20. Good grief! After reading Breeze Harpers response to your unbiased recap, I would not consider it an 'opportunity' to attend anything like that conference. You said nothing negative about her talk at all, yet you're supposed to what? feel guilty? beg forgiveness? for her not being able to afford childcare. Strange. Like Steve Buscemi said in 'Ghost World': "Have some more kids why don't you?!"

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  21. The Shenandoah Vegan, if you'd like to insult me, please just DIRECTLY write me. Please don't refer to something someone else said about having too many children. You don't need to use Steve's character's words, just use your own. I am obviously participating on the blog conversation, so just let me know straight out that you may perceive me as 'yet another [Black] mom who has had to many babies and can't take care of them.' Perhaps that wasn't your intention, but that is how I experienced it (and of course you can't control how anyone receives your insults). I was not asking for forgiveness, but merely explaining how work performance (i.e. public speaking) can be impacted by bringing a newborn with me, nursing on demand, and not getting sleep...and that it's a structural problem in general that primary caretakers of children (mostly women) in the USA find it challenging to perform 'well' at their jobs and be there for their children. I was simply giving context and I felt that I owed it to the audience to explain why my talk didn't seem as good as it could have been. I don't usually read straight from my tablet. Instead, I use notes to guide my talks which draw from what I learned from my dissertation research and the Sistah Vegan project. However, I was so mentally and physically exhausted, I decided that maybe it was safer to read more parts from my dissertation. Why would you need to make the reference to me having more children? Doesn't seem like a compassionate thing to say.

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  22. Abby Bean: You are right, it was someone else here who said my talk was pointless and all over the place. My apologies.
    I misunderstood you. I initially thought that you found my talk to be unclear. My particular type of work is the BEST way that I engage in intersectional vegan activism. I am not sure if I mentioned it during the talk more clearly, but Sistah Vegan anthology came about because Black women vegans were affected by the [white] racialized language and experiences that organizations like PETA exude. My work on the Sistah Vegan project and my dissertation work (6 years of hard core social-science research) showed that 'nit-picking' about the racial and cultural aspects of language/experience is a very post-racial mainstream attitude. Alternatively, PETA's type of language has SIGNIFICANT impact on racialized minorities. Because I have paid particular attention to race, language, and vegan consciousness, an overwhelming number of black and brown identified people have contacted me to tell me that the work I have done has pushed them to go either vegetarian or vegan. WHY? Because I was careful with the language I used. I presented a more 'race-conscious' approach to veganism that reflected their collective struggles with structural racism and normative whiteness.

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  23. I know you didn't say anything 'bad' about my talk, but I infer from your analysis that what I had to offer is irrelevant to 'real' vegan activism, despite thousands of vegans of color, and anti-racist white allies, saying different (and this can be seen in the work I have done and published, as well as other critical race oriented vegan and AR scholars). I know it's hard to read tone and intention on a social media tool like a blog. However, I found your analysis both hurtful and problematic, because what I HEARD in between the lines of your analysis of my talk is that anti-speciesism and veganism should be post-racial (compassion is 'universal' is a very post-racial framing of ethics and morality). This is despite the overwhelmingly evidence that shows that structural racism and neoliberal whiteness INFECT and AFFECT everyone's consciousness; even the compassionate 'vegan' consciousness; hence, if one wants to 'convince' non-vegans why veganism is important for alleviating suffering, one must be mindful of how outreach and language can be experienced as racist and white supremacist by racialized minorities. I am an open person. As a black feminist theorist and activist, I do not and cannot separate private from the public. Yes, please correct me if I am reading your wrong, but in a nutshell, your analysis of the content of my talk showed a low literacy level around the politics of intersectionality and how something as 'simple' as language (used by PETA for example) can be the turning point of why a Black male omnivore would or wouldn't not chose to become vegan. Afrocentric language, used to promote veganism, makes sense for most of the Black population in the USA, so I thought sharing that 'strategy' was useful to those those don't 'get' why so many people of color are turned off by post-racial vegan politics. Language is power.

    If my talk had 'nit-picked' the speciesist language of a non-vegan social justice organization focused on anti-sexism, I am sure you and I would both be offended if an omnivorous audience members said that we were 'nit-picking'; that trying to link speciesist language to violence against women is not the best form of activism and that compassion toward females is universal (i.e., has nothing to do with food choice or how non-human animals are treated.)

    In addition, I opened my heart to explain to the audience that I have fear and anxiety speaking at a PWI about whiteness and racism, as a Black woman. I am not sure if you were mocking me by referring to Princeton's diversity initiative. If you were mocking, I found that to be quite uncompassionate. To give you context, I have been THREATENED by white nationalists identified people throughout my entire life. Ergo, it is normal for someone in my position to be fearful of my safety and the ramifications of my intersectional black feminist, critical race, vegan activism. It may sound 'irrational' to you, but I'm willing to bet that you don't identify as a black woman or the thousands of other black and brown anti-racist activists in the USA who have been deeply traumatized by structural racism and being 'punished' for trying to fight against it in every form. If you were not mocking me, then dismiss this paragraph. Once again, it's hard to decipher tone on this medium.

    The point of me commenting on this blog and speaking about going right back to work while taking care of a newborn is to explain how PERSONAL/PRIVATE lives affect how we GET to places of vegan activism and how we do it. I apologize if folk are 'perplexed' and I guess I should have worked harder to make that apparent.

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  24. The Shenandoah Vegan: Do you really think that being 'unbiased' is possible?

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  25. Hi, I think some of your comments in regards to Breeze Harpers work about vegan intersectionality show a lack of understanding of what the intersectional approach in veganism is about. From a ethical vegan standpoint I can't see the point in comments like these in your blogpost:

    "[...]And four, is this really the best use of a vegan's time: nit-picking possibly race/culture-specific/exclusive language? I really can't imagine that someone who grew up on kimchi and rice would dismiss veganism solely because PETA neglected to include their personal, cultural foods in their literature."

    I suppose you do concentrate more on vegan/plant based foods and food items and not so much on the ethics driving the vegan idea from its beginning on (judging from your contents, the focus and the choice of photos for this particular blog post.)

    Veganism obviously takes different approaches, but I think its unwise to dismiss an ethical approach and to prioritize the "consumer and cooking tips" approach. In the end of the day you end up indirectly supporting speciesism by evading the needed ethical discourse - and intersectionality just happens to be one if not the most important of our ethical pillars.

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  26. Hi Tom,
    I am an ethical vegan first and foremost. In general and specifically with this post, my blog highlights vegan food both to showcase the vast varieties available as well as to highlight vegan entrepreneurs.

    I am in no way supporting speciesism or generally dismissing an intersectionality approach to veganism simply by virtue of the fact that I was not impressed by one person's presentation of their research.

    There is, of course, room for many approaches to promoting veganism. But, after reading Breeze's comments on this blog (including the lengthy one she's since deleted), as well as reading more of her thoughts and interactions online, I've concluded for myself that her combative tone and incessant self-victimization makes obvious that promoting veganism isn't her highest priority. Perhaps the mistake was mine for assuming that it was.

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  27. I guess you would have to be specific to prove your case on such a weird accusation. But apart from that, reducing a fundamental discourse - such as we have it with vegan intersectionality! - to banal terms such as "nitpicking" seems provocative in my point of view.

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