Animal Rights Conference brings together advocates

Compassionate Action for Animals hosted its first conference this past weekend

During Dave Rolsky’s college-cafeteria days, he would always get a hamburger dinner. But when he began to think about where his burger came from, he would begin to feel sick and be forced to not think about it just so he could finish his meal.

After going vegetarian his senior year and eventually becoming vegan, Rolsky now advocates animal rights as a member of Compassionate Action for Animals .

The organization held its first Midwest Animal Advocacy Conference, “Their Lives, Our Voices,” on campus this past weekend .

The event attracted nearly 200 animal activists from all over the country, many hoping to bring animal rights advocacy into their own communities.

Topics included grassroots organizing, working with the media, teaching and advocacy and how to be a vegan in a non-vegan world.

“People are interested in the issues and want to learn where to go from here,” Rolsky, a member of the conference planning committee, said.

Others were looking for networking opportunities and support.

“When you make that choice to be vegan,” Rolsky said, “you step out of the mainstream of what’s socially acceptable and that can be stressful.”

Rolsky said often in social interactions, people want to focus on his vegan diet more than he wants to talk about it – though he said he’s happy to explain why he is vegan to anyone who asks.

Rolsky said when he first asked for vegan dishes in restaurants, he’d only get a confused look from a server. Now he sees many vegan options at grocery stores.

Psychology junior Ivan Martino , who was a conference volunteer, said while being vegan is often more accepted now, some still consider it an outlandish lifestyle.

Many vegans at the conference found their new eating habits and activism came from individually researching the issue.

“The conditions (of factory farms) speak for themselves,” organizer Gil Schwartz said. “Even the most routine treatments are unacceptable.”

Keynote speaker Gene Baur said there are two countertrends that can be found in the United States.

One is the continuation of fast, cheap food and mass production. The other is an increase in organic, local and slow food movements.

Baur, the founder of Farm Sanctuary – the first rescue organization for farm animals –

said the meat industry has contributed to disease, obesity and global warming more than many people realize.

However, according to The Minnesota Daily’s Environmental Issues Survey conducted in January, not everyone agrees with avoiding meat.

According to the survey, 62 percent of students don’t see going vegetarian as good for the environment and only 8 percent of students practice vegetarianism or veganism.