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Reflection on my Internship with the Factory Farming Awareness Coalition

This summer, I was part of the College Student Advocacy Institute at the Factory Farming Awareness Coalition. I didn’t know what to expect going into this remote internship, as I’d only been vegetarian for half a year at the beginning of the program and didn’t know a whole lot about factory farming. Their website told me I would “gain the skills, knowledge, and lifelong support to lead in the movement to end factory farming”, but I still wasn’t sure what this would entail. I entered the Advocacy Institute with no expectations, ready to accept whatever came my way.

What I encountered was a truly life-changing and overwhelmingly positive experience. Despite the internship being virtual and the Zoom fatigue I normally feel with online meetings, I looked forward to logging on to my laptop to attend workshops, engage in discussions, and work on projects related to factory farming issues. I met so many inspiring, accomplished, and cool people who were using their various backgrounds, from cognitive science to international studies to environmental science, to speak at animal advocacy conferences, educate children and adults alike through programming and workshops, write articles about the dangers of factory farming, and more. I absorbed more information than I thought my brain could take in just 8 weeks and am incredibly grateful that I loved this internship as much as I did.

I’d recommend the Advocacy Institute to any high school or college student interested in activism, sustainability, social justice issues, environmentalism, animal ethics, policy and government, journalism, public health, or anything else for which you might need communication, advocacy, or mentorship skills. To help you decide if this program is right for you, I’ve reflected on my experience below, using the “Overview” section of FFAC’s description of the College Student Advocacy Institute as a guide.

Workshops led by movement leaders

Workshops covered topics one might expect from a factory farming advocacy internship, such as public speaking, animal ethics, writing, and effective communication, but they also included more innovative and surprising topics, some of which I had never heard of before. I listened with rapt attention as representatives from Transfarmation Academy described how they help farmers transition away from animal agriculture, as Claudia Serrato spoke about Indigenous environmental perspectives on factory farming, and as we received a tour of Good Life Refuge, an animal sanctuary in Colorado.

Discussions about weekly readings

From environmental impacts and climate change to the treatment of factory farm workers, to connections to other social justice movements like antiracism, feminism, and anti-abelism, each weeks’ articles, podcasts, and/or videos were eye-opening and informative. Completing the necessary reading, listening, and/or watching for the week never felt like a chore, and in fact many times I looked forward to it because I wanted to learn about another facet of factory farming in the upcoming week. The discussions we had with our peers on this media was stimulating and provided a space for us to process what we’d absorbed, clear up any confusion we had, and debate the significance and impacts of that week’s topic.

Elective hours on a wide variety of topics

At least five elective hours were offered every week to provide the opportunity for us to explore parts of advocacy and factory farming that particularly interested us. It enabled us to take control of our summer experience and customize the curriculum. With such a wide variety of topics, I never had an issue finding some that intrigued me, but three stood out. I liked the “Water depletion and pollution in CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations)” lesson because I’ve always been interested in issues surrounding water, and I am on the board of my university’s branch of Take Back the Tap, so I’ve learned a lot about water scarcity and pollution. The discussion on graduate programs and funding was informative, realistic, and useful, especially as I begin to think about life after I complete my undergraduate studies.

I’ve saved the best for last: Cultivated Meat with Bianca Le at Mission Barns. This elective was my favorite by far. Bianca Le talked about her work at Mission Barns, a biotech startup that has “developed a scalable way to make real meat — without the animal,” according to their website. The more she spoke, the more excited I became, and the faster my heart beat. As she described her undergraduate experience as someone studying a major that traditionally led to medical school but who didn’t want to follow that path, I saw myself. As she described how she pursued a variety of diverse opportunities to discover what she wanted to make her career, I saw myself. I am currently on that journey, and it was comforting to learn that her path wasn’t linear either.

Le then began explaining the emerging field of cultivated meat, the research needed to advance the field, and the career opportunities available. Suddenly, a whole new career path opened up for me. As someone who wants to pursue biological research, learning about importance of research in cellular and molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, bioinformatics, and developmental biology to cultivated meat development filled me with inspiration and a vigor for biology I missed as I struggled to find research topics I thought of as career worthy. I’m now looking to the field of cultivated meat as a way to turn my dream of biological research into a reality.

The opportunity to serve as a mentor to an Institute high school student

I loved getting to know my co-mentor and mentee. Sometimes we talked about factory farming, and sometimes we just talked about how our week was going. We practiced advocacy techniques, watched some funny videos, and even made a vegan version of Gigi Hadid’s famous pasta.

One-to-one support from FFAC staff mentors

A very unique and positive aspect of the Advocacy Institute was the role of FFAC staff. Yes, they were in charge and led the program, but I never felt the distance or uneven power dynamic that can arise between management and interns. Every single meeting, each Student Advocate was greeted by name as they joined. Many staff members also participated in workshops and discussions and made fun posts in Mighty Networks, our communication platform, which allowed us to get to know each other better. The staff mentors were one of my favorite parts of this experience because of how welcoming and understanding they were.

An advocacy project of your choice

Courtesy: Stephen Leonardi

I wrote two articles for the Factory Farming Awareness Coalition: “Issues of Animal Agriculture at Point Reyes National Seashore” and “A Guide to Greenhouse Gases: Examples, Causes, Effects, and More.” I honed my research skills to uncover and communicate the most accurate information possible. I learned about SEO, photo copyright rules, and citation customs. The staff lead introduced us to various tools for writers, from websites to Chrome extensions. I discovered how important tone and voice are in advocacy writing. I took all of this knowledge and created my two articles. After a few rounds of editing and feedback, the final products are now published on the Factory Farming Awareness Coalition’s website, and I couldn’t be happier or prouder. (Be sure to check out the other articles on the site, too!)

I also worked with another FFAC intern who goes to my school, the George Washington University, to implement Greener by Default at our university’s Office of Sustainability. We’ve had some success and will continue working with them in the future.

Connections with like-minded peers

In a remote environment, it can be easy to feel disconnected from your peers. It can be easy to reduce them to little Zoom boxes or Mighty Networks notifications. That was not my experience at all. My “cohort”, a group of a dozen student advocates plus a staff leader, connected with each other on topics both related to factory farming and not. With ice-breaker questions like “If you could bring back any fashion trend or old slang, what would it be?” (I find 1960s slang pretty groovy!), “If you could have someone follow you around all the time, like a personal assistant, what would you have them do?” (Please respond to that text I read 3 hours ago but didn’t reply to!), and “What food/dish reminds you most of your childhood?” (Kraft mac and cheese ftw!), my peers and I saw each others’ personalities and perspectives as if we were in the same room. We shared book and podcast recommendations, made sure we all follow each other on Instagram, and had many Glee-centric debates. Of course, we also had more topical discussions on subjects like food justice, Indigenous perspectives, sustainable advocacy, and potential careers in ending factory farming, which enriched our connection by uniting us via a common interest. I am sure we will keep in contact and maybe even work together in the future.

Internships, job opportunities, and introductions

I’ve met so many leaders in the movement to end factory farming from this internship. The opportunities I now have because of these connections will be invaluable to me going forward. As I shared before, I’ve been inspired to pursue a career in the emerging field of cultivated meat as a biological researcher, a path I never would have considered had it not been for the elective hour on cultivated meat.

Even if I don’t enter that specific field, our workshops on a Green New Meal, alternative proteins at the Good Food Institute, and institutional campaigns like DefaultVeg and Greener by Default will strengthen my activism and facilitate my work to end factory farming in other ways. Even if I don’t stay in the field of factory farming advocacy at all, I can use what I’ve learned on topics like inclusivity and social justice in social movements, Moral Foundations Theory, and plant-based nutrition in other careers. The skills and knowledge I gained over the 2 months of my internship make me a stronger job candidate, no matter the position.

Lifelong membership in the Leadership Collective

The Leadership Collective is a place for staff, former fellows, former interns, and others “to share, network, and support each other in our collective goal to end factory farming.” Though I only recently joined the Collective because I just “graduated” from the Advocacy Institute, I am thankful for this space to keep in contact with the people I worked, learned, and had so much fun with this summer!

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