UI's Earth Week celebration begins with vegetarian/vegan feast

UI's Earth Week celebration begins with vegetarian/vegan feast

CHAMPAIGN — About 100 people packed Latzer Hall Monday afternoon, kicking off Earth Week on campus with a free vegetarian and vegan feast.

As part of "Meat-Free Monday" at the University YMCA, community members and students shared short talks about why they chose low-meat or no-meat diets and encouraged others to do the same, as a way to lighten their environmental footprint.

They also touched on the environmental impact of large-scale meat producers, which are among the largest sources of greenhouse gases globally.

For graduate students Joseph Edwards and Dane Hunter, the free lunch was an opportunity for them to promote their pet project: reducing the amount of meat used by dining halls at the University of Illinois.

Hunter's thesis focused on his finding that a large part of the UI's carbon footprint comes from dining halls serving meat.

"This is a way for students to lower their carbon footprint," Edwards said. "But it's also a way to say: Hey, if we pushed, the university would be more than supportive of it."

Though the UI offers both vegetarian and vegan options, Hunter and Edwards seek a more equal dynamic between meat and non-meat options in campus dining halls. There's no need to cut out meat entirely, they say, just reduce the amount eaten.

It's excessive as it is, said Brian Aldridge, a clinical professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine. With the worldwide population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, the way the world gets its food today is not sustainable, he said.

He also wasn't calling for ridding of meat and animal products altogether, but rather finding better and more efficient ways to feed all those people.

"I think it sounds like a cliche, but it's all about balance," Aldridge said about diets. "I think if you design a diet, it should be omnivorous. You won't find something as nutrient-dense as milk, for example."

Krti Tallam is among those who've given up meat entirely — the health factors alone made it an easy choice, she said.

"When you eat meat, you're eating all of the antibiotics (the animal) was fed," she said. "And they are leading causes of heart disease, cancer, obesity. I think the sooner we get rid of meat, the better we'll be mentally."

A few hours after the feast, two dozen students held a call-in on the opposite side of the YMCA, as they pressed state legislators to back two environmental bills that missed their passage deadlines.

Students for Environmental Concerns, a political action committee, focused on the Saving Illinois' Pollinators Act, which would ban the use of pesticides toxic to bees on public lands, and the Oil Well Fracking Repeal, which would prohibit hydraulic fracturing in Illinois.

Both bills missed a Friday deadline in Springfield and were kicked down to the rules committee. But they could return to the state senate floor for a vote.

"Our goal is to build up the pressure," said SECS spokesperson Soren Warland. "Fracking can have serious health consequences and can lead to damaged infrastructure, and other things. And the pollinators act focuses on neonicotinoid pesticides that are extremely detrimental to bees. Both of these have the potential to impact people all across the state."