The word “vegan” has frequently been associated with self-described “activist,” “animal rights,” or “animal liberation” organizations. In contrast to these efforts, HVSSG aims to bring a new academic and professional level of discourse to topics that intersect with the promotion of plant-based diets. As is spelled out more exhaustively below, HVSSG is dedicated to operating an intellectual and business-oriented society that intentionally engages, involves individuals who do not necessarily self-identify with the word “vegan.”
In our view, the word “vegan” should be used as a description of certain products and activities. As such, we do not consider ourselves to be—and will not manage the society as—an “identity” organization, which means that we do not intend our events or materials to promote veganism as an issue of identity politics. Instead, our organization is intended to disseminate information to anyone on campus who is personally and/or professionally interested in the manifold intersections of plant-based diets with issues such as environmental sustainability, human biology, medical interventions, public health, philosophy, and bioethics.
With the growth of self-identified vegans and vegan-supportive students at Harvard, we have resolved to establish a group committed to rigorous evaluation and discourse of the above-mentioned sensitive and interdisciplinary topics. Particularly compelling has been the growth of relevant peer-reviewed research published by respected academic journals on human nutrition, food system, and animal consciousness. Given the increasing number of faculty throughout the US and abroad conducting research on these topics, we feel there is an opportunity to bring this important research to the fore for our fellow campus members given that veganism has rarely had intellectual champions of high enough caliber to merit legitimate consideration in the academy.
While academic scholarship continues to grow, the business world has—in parallel— begun to swell with food-technology startups supported by major investors, both institutional and high-net-worth individual. The entrepreneurial sector has witnessed technological developments such as vertical farms, lab-grown meat, and an increasingly wide variety of plant-based milks). Concurrently, the days of simple vegan restaurants are gone. Today, veganism has entered the gourmet food scene. These industry developments merit a more thorough inquiry and dialogue.
As an institution, Harvard University is generally at the cutting-edge of major social developments. And indeed, there are already many scholars—faculty and students alike—whose professional work has implications for the future of food across campus. The problem, as we see it, is that these individuals are currently siloed in various centers and departments, and are not engaged in dialogue with one another. The central purpose and rationale for the existence of HVSSG is precisely to begin a conversation among these varied individuals and to create fruitful collaborations. We believe that the entire university community stands to benefit from these initiatives.
While some conversations on these topics and associated industry developments have started to take place throughout the University, the lack of coordination and cohesion of these conversations has severely limited their impact on the collective intellectual response by campus members as a whole. By connecting these previously disparate campus members (students, faculty, support staff, and staff researchers), we intend to unlock the potential of these conversations to influence the nature of the research and writing undertaken here, given that the topics of concern overlap with many—if not all—Schools on campus.