Matthew Hayek was in his seventh grade Biology class when he learned about the environmental damage caused by meat and dairy production. Hayek then decided to go vegan by cutting meat and dairy out of his diet. Today, Hayek is a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard Law School who studies climate science and policy.
In celebration of Earth Week, Hayek was invited to speak in the Mural Room during lunch on Wednesday. His talk focused on the negative effects of the meat and dairy industry on the environment, and Hayek emphasized the importance of a plant-based diet.
“Meat and dairy are actually the biggest contributors to the environmental damage caused by our food system, and that substituting meat and dairy for plant-based alternatives can reduce 50 to 70 percent of your food’s carbon footprint,” said Hayek in an interview with The Phillipian.
As part of his research, Hayek also mentioned how commonly proposed solutions to problems in the food system often do not to fix environmental issues. Some of these solutions include free-range and locally raised meat, which are actually less sustainable than regular farming.
“One of those [solutions] is local food because only a very small percentage of our emissions from food come from its transportation, as well as the fact that animal agriculture requires resources that are transported all over the country,” said Hayek.
Hayek continued, “Free-range and pasture-based meats can actually be worse for the environment because you need to raise more of them to produce the same amount of meat, because they fatten up more slowly and reach a lower slaughter weight, and can produce more of the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change than their grain-fed, non pasture-raised counterparts.”
In addition to educating about food sustainability, Hayek also researches the positive and negative effects that making diets more plant-based has on the environment. By providing scientific data in graphs and charts, Hayek hopes to implement better solutions to environmental problems relating to food and convince more people to follow those solutions.
“What we’re trying to do is show that by drastically changing diets globally to become more traditionally plant-based, that we can generate environmental benefits. We want to map and graph and plot those benefits for people to see the flip side of how good things can be if we changed our behavior,” said Hayek.
Hannah Guy ’21 attended the talk as part of her Physical Education class taught by Lisa Joel, Head Coach of Girls Varsity Soccer and Director of Enrollment Management. According to Guy, Hayek put a lot of effort into creating and sharing reliable data about the food industry. She also noted that Hayek provided helpful solutions that she could follow in order to reduce her food waste footprint.
“One thing that I took away was how much meat affects the environment. The different solutions and the ways that we can make a difference also was super fascinating to me. I think that it’s easy to say to people to just change their lifestyle, but when people are given solutions I think that can be way more helpful. I also think that telling us how to do things to make small changes was super cool. He had his own recipes and gave alternatives that we can use that were almost as affordable as non-vegan products,” said Guy.
Allison Guerette, Campus Sustainability Coordinator, reached out to Hayek after finding out that he gave a similar talk last year in Boston.
“The presentation was a great complement to the vegetarian menu we enjoyed on Earth Day. We all can benefit from thinking about the impact of what we eat on the environment and the people that grow and produce it… I appreciated that the presentation so clearly connected what we eat to climate change and food injustice,” wrote Guerette in an email to The Phillipian.
In light of Earth Week, all reusable cups and utensils were removed from Paresky Commons this week. Guerette hopes to help reduce food waste by encouraging more students and faculty to bring reusable water bottles or mugs instead.
“During the Non Sibi Day waste audit, we learned that the 4,500 cups and 2,500 lids we use each week in Paresky are not recyclable. We encourage everyone to bring a reusable mug or water bottle, and EcoAction is selling travel mugs and water bottles in the Paresky lobby and Susie’s,” wrote Guerette.