After arriving a few minutes late, I finally see where this convergence would be held. I walk into a large room filled with college students. There are signs near the front that read “Strengthening the Roots” – the name of the conference . . . or convergence . . . or whatever it is. Whatever it was, it was a student run conference . . . convergence, about introducing sustainable food to the UC system. It consisted of multiple workshops about sustainable food and introducing it to a wider audience (mainly college students). The first day ended with live music (I can’t recall the group’s name), and the second day with a group drum circle.
The convergence was organized around a selection of workshops with various focuses. I heard “workshop” and assumed there would be a person leading the workshop who would just talk. Then again, I have had very few experiences at “workshops.” What I saw was a forum. They did have a focus, but were mainly students sharing experiences of what they did in terms of introducing sustainability in their schools. I see how this would be great for a student of a UC, but as a high school student, it helped me very little. Almost everything I heard was something I already knew, so this almost seemed pointless to me. Then again, my thoughts were on Vizcaino and gray whales. With that in mind, my view was a bit skewed.
But there was one more thing that turned me off to the convergence. Towards the end of the first workshop, I was sitting around and overheard a conversation between two other convergence goers. It started on homesteading, the topic of the workshop, but drifted to the topic of meat. The conversing two were eager to rant about the lack of sustainability and malpractices of the meat industry and their shared distain of the product. I wrote them off as a pair of meat haters, not something too uncommon at a convergence such as this. But as the conference dragged on, I came to realize that many others there shared this opinion of meat. In the second workshop, about how to effectively spread a message, there grew the idea of “us” and “them.” “Us” being the enlightened ones spreading our knowledge of sustainability, and “them” being the know-nothings of sustainability. As the topics drifted, “us” became vegans and vegetarians, and “them” became meat eaters. Then later, during an open panel discussion, the question arose, “why was meat ignored during this conference?”. Which was misinterpreted, then played off of and used to support their own opinions.
As a meat eater, I do realize the repercussions of industrialized meat. I know about its effects on the environment, the economy and the horrible conditions for the animals. But this convergence was about shifting to sustainable food. There was almost no mention of sustainable, grass fed meat farms; and when it did come up it was ignored. There are models of sustainable meat farms that use practices of humane raising and slaughtering, such as Polyface Farm in Virginia. Yet at this convention about shifting to sustainable food for whole campuses of students, the message permeating the air seemed clear: the future of sustainability is vegetarianism. I personally saw this as close-minded and almost offensive, that a group of people (meat eaters) could be completely ignored. The convergence was to bring people together to gain knowledge and support each other in the switch to sustainable food, but instead I saw an “us” and “them” form. I’d like to have seen at least an acknowledgment that there are ways of raising sustainable meat. If they had even taken the time to point out that industrialized meat isn’t the only meat, then maybe I would have accepted their views as legitimate. But because I only saw this separation and ignorance, I only saw hypocrisy.
By Nick Lee