One Student’s Journey to Address Sustainability through a Vegan Lifestyle

This post was written by Margaret Arzon, SEMBA ’17

“It’s better to light one candle than curse the darkness. I think that’s where movements are started.”

– Shawn Heinrichs

Margaret feeding a cow in Haridwar, India

Growing up I would not touch anything that even resembled a vegetable. My Puerto-Rican and Cuban roots offered daily dishes of fried meat or chicken with rice and beans. At 21, I stopped eating meat for health reasons which slowly transformed into ethical concerns. Three years later, I read a book called “Vegan Freak” which revealed to me the atrocities and environmental havoc of not just the meat industry, but dairy and eggs as well. Sometimes once you know something, there is no degree of feigning ignorance that could turn you away from the truth. I immediately eliminated all animal products from my life, including eggs, dairy, wool and leather. People around me told me I was silly, expressed concern for a lack of protein and gave disapproving looks with my lunch plate filled with just veggies. However, I knew the only way to save our dying planet was to stop pillaging that which is not ours to take.

From growing up in Philadelphia, I followed the sun and Latin beats to the University of Miami where I first studied International Relations and later received a graduate degree in Public Health. I figured through global health I could impact more people by getting to the root cause of an illness. A classic example is Dr. Leonard White’s work in 1889, trying to determine a solution to the malaria epidemic. White and pathologist Theobald Smith realized that by covering the ponds, wells and open water sources with oil, it prevented mosquitos from breeding which were carrying the disease. Malaria rates dramatically decreased after this seemingly simple but ingenious remedy. Instead of treating patients one on one, I wanted to help the masses, one community at a time.

I spread my wings wanting to help save the world, and I plan to harness the power of knowledge acquired at SEMBA to accomplish my dreams and take flight.

After studying public health, I ended up in India to work with the social enterprise Educare India, working in grassroots development in rural villages in the areas of health, environment and education. I loved the work we did with the people in the villages, but something was missing. I thought about how much more meaningful it could be if we considered how projects affected the entire ecosystem of a community, including the animals. My already vegan lifestyle and desire to address sustainability through social change felt like the natural next step.

To me, veganism is like putting oil on open water source to prevent malaria. Instead of addressing the symptom, we get to the root of the world’s problems. The meat industry contributes to 14.3% of greenhouse gases, which currently surmounts all of the emissions from cars, trucks, trains, planes and ships in the world combined. The United Nations released an official report stating, “A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change.” This does not mean you have to become vegan to make an impact, in fact changing what you put on your plate just once a week can have huge results. According to Environmental Defense, if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.

If not for Educare, I would have not found my way to SEMBA. Now as a SEMBA student what I am learning is how to best apply my values and skill-sets to businesses that are also committed to addressing these global issues. I know it is an uphill battle but it is the best and only way I know to address this giant elephant in the room: we can no longer ignore the effects of the animal agriculture industry if we want to live in a sustainable world. This is an ongoing journey for me that has only just begun. Never would I have imagined that I could finally find my path to helping people, the environment and animals. I spread my wings wanting to help save the world, and I plan to harness the power of knowledge acquired at SEMBA to accomplish my dreams and take flight.

2 Replies to “One Student’s Journey to Address Sustainability through a Vegan Lifestyle”

  1. Dear Margaret, wish you the very best in your journey. I have no doubt that you will create a positive impact on whatever you choose to focus on.

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