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Reflecting on a Fantastic Plant Futures Symposium

Monica Chen reflects on her experience speaking about the animal rights movement during the Plant Futures Symposium.

I had the great honor to be asked to speak at the 2023 Plant Futures Symposium at the end of January. The event was held at my alma mater, UC Berkeley, and it was very meaningful to me to visit the campus again. My last visit was during the pandemic and it was really quiet, with no students. I didn't take for granted how much had to happen for us to all be together.

I gave a talk called “Effective Climate Impact Through Food Choices” that gave an overview of our work with students in high schools and colleges across the United States. I was invited to speak due to my work as a Cal alum in the environmental and animal rights spheres. Many of the slides I used were also used by our Bay Area Educator Erin Zhang for the Plant Futures Challenge Lab last fall. 

My goal was for audience members to become stronger advocates, and to be able to take the information and convey it to their family, friends, and within their current or future careers. The audience resonated with the presentation, with particular interest in this slide since one of the MBA students’ families owns the largest almond farm in California.

I discussed the phenomenon where we often make food choices based on a singular climate crisis impact, such as carbon emissions. We need to recognize that our food choices also impact the water supply, among many other interrelated resources. If there isn't water or the water is contaminated, then there will be a ripple effect. There might, for example, be the need to truck water in, which would increase carbon footprints. Though we don’t generally recommend a single product over others, it is clear that plant-based milks are generally less resource intensive than cow’s milk.

There was also tremendous interest in our Advocacy Institute, a semester-long program for high school and college students that trains and prepares students to be effective leaders in the movement to end factory farming. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, so check it out if you know a student who may be interested!

Monica Chen enjoying a vegan charcuterie demo by Dr. Nina Guilbeault. Photo by Joffrey Baylon.

The whole event was outstanding, but a highlight for me was the chance to connect with the other speakers at an event hosted by Stand-Up Burgers. The work we do as animal rights advocates is stronger when we do it in community, and this networking event helped me deepen the bonds I have with others doing this vital work.

Monica Chen (center) with FFAC supporters Felix Osorio (left) and Tracy Chen (right). Photo by Joffrey Baylon.

I also enjoyed Nivi Jaswal and Solaire Denaud's talk on "Colonial Food Systems and Plant-Based Diets as a Key Tool to Decolonize.” The symposium addressed change on multiple levels - individual, institutional and systemic. Many of the presentations and conversations mirrored what happens every day in classrooms across the country during lessons by our FFAC Educators.