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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

UC Davis Vegan Frat Challenge


PEACE Club raises awareness on health, environmental benefits of veganism

This week, two UC Davis fraternities battled it out in a competition centered around maintaining a diet completely free of animal products. Theta Xi and Theta Chi teamed up with Davis’ People for the Elimination of Animal Cruelty through Education club (PEACE) to compete in the campus’ first ever Vegan Frat Challenge.

“The Vegan Frat Challenge is basically where, for a week, we get two frats to go vegan,” said Emmanuelle Chicandard, a second-year animal biology major. “That means their entire house is going to be stocked with vegan food and [PEACE is] going to help them cook. I think we have a couple people every day going in for breakfast, lunch and dinner to help [guide] them cook vegan food.”

On Sunday, stewards from each fraternity accompanied PEACE members on a Costco run to pick up all the supplies necessary for the 18 or so fraternity members who live in each house. Groceries were funded by the national organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Taco Bell and Chipotle, while other foodstuffs were supplied by a few local and global plant-based companies.

PEACE designed a point system for the Vegan Frat Challenge as a way to encourage and reward the members involved. One fraternity took the championship crown and prize, but prizes were awarded to a first, second and third place individual in each fraternity as well.

“Eating a plant-based meal is 10 points, and [points are also given for] taking a photo of yourself or of your plant-based meal with the hashtag ‘vegan frat challenge’ [or] ‘VFC Theta Chi’ or ‘VFC Theta Xi,’” said McKenna Maxwell, a fourth-year environmental science and management major. “We can search through the hashtags and give points to each frat with those hashtags specifically. You can also get points for bringing friends to events and attending events yourself, and there will be a grand prize for the [winning] house […] of visiting the Animal Place animal sanctuary for free.”

Not only is the Vegan Frat Challenge a way of educating the members of the fraternities about healthy vegan eating and plant-based diets, but members also had the chance to gain points by attending events PEACE hosted throughout the week.

“One of the events we’re looking forward to is the vegan athlete speakers,” Maxwell said. “We’ll have three vegan athletes come who are YouTube famous […and] invite the frat community to see that. It’s to debunk the idea that [if] you’re vegan [you] can’t be strong. There’s a [lack of] education on this topic. That’s a big myth, especially for college-age students and the male population having this idea of veganism as not [providing] the protein that they need.”

Other events the club hosted throughout the week were film screenings of “Cowspiracy” and “What the Health,” as well as visual demonstrations on the Quad like the 360-degree virtual simulation of the life of a factory farm chicken through iAnimal and the Brave the Cage event.

“Brave the Cage is about factory farm hens, because a lot of them are stuck in tiny cages,” Chicandard said. “Even though we have this cage-free law going on, it takes awhile for farms to transition. So this [demonstration] shows basically a human-sized cage, and we try to stuff as many people in the cage as they would stuff hens, just to get that feeling of being in a cage.”

Like Maxwell said, there are some commonly held assumptions around veganism and fitness, like that being muscular is impossible with a vegan diet. PEACE intentionally focused the event on the male Greek community in order to dispel the stigma around veganism and masculinity as well as raise awareness for everyone across campus.

“Meat and masculinity are so tied together,” said Iliana Zisman, a third-year animal science major and president of PEACE. “The reason we are giving attention to the Greek community and the male Greek community in particular […is] because they deserve to have this education as well about this kind of lifestyle. It’s also showing vulnerability to care about something, which isn’t something to be ashamed of.”

The expectation of this event is not that members of Theta Chi and Theta Xi will emerge as vegans, but that PEACE will educate part of the Davis community about the health and ethical benefits of switching to a vegan or plant-based diet. PEACE hopes that the challenge will have inspired individuals to adopt more animal-friendly diet habits like “Meatless Mondays.”

“I think people, when they think of veganism they think it’s really difficult, but there are a lot of products that are good substitutes for things,” Chicandard said. “There are a lot of recipes that are really simple that you can do. It doesn’t have to be a complicated dish or anything like that. Like I don’t know how to cook and I don’t cook very often, but I’m still vegan.”

Animal consumption is tied to multiple environmental impacts such as deforestation, land use, waste and especially greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock and their byproducts account for roughly 51 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions not limited to carbon dioxide; these emissions also include methane and nitrous oxide, both greenhouse gasses with global warming potentials of 56 and 280 respectively and are far more destructive than carbon dioxide alone.  

“We believe the biggest way to make change is to educate and speak with each other and hear from each other and learn from each other,” Zisman said. “I think that for us this is more of a value system than it is a diet. It’s more about the basic concept of freedom for everyone to have a right to their own life and to not be dictated by another being, whether that’s a human or a non-human animal.”

Zisman herself faced no difficulties in adopting a plant-based diet, as she was able to make the change overnight. The decision to go vegan made logical sense; she should stop contributing to animal suffering since she loved animals and was going to dedicate her life to helping them. Now she’s the president of PEACE and feels her time educating students about the environmental, health and social justice issues tied to animals is time well spent.

“Of course, I’m not saying being vegan is flawless. There’s no way to be a human and be flawless,” Zisman said. “We’re still causing environmental harm, we’re still causing a lot of issues just by existing, but I think the tenet of veganism is do the best you can, and that can mean something different for everyone.”


Written by: Marlys Jeane — features@theaggie.org


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