The UCLA IoES Gala
About a month ago now, I was sitting at my kitchen table, eating lunch, when I received an email from the UCLA Institute of Environmental Sciences. I've been on the UC mailing list for a few years now, so I figured it was just another email from the school trying to get me to apply. But, what struck me was the fact that it had my professional name in the subject - not my legal name (Anisa is my real middle name, not my real last name). I hesitantly opened it up, and my jaw dropped.
The institute had recognized my continued passion and contributions to environmental sustainability, and wanted to not only partner with me, but invite me to their honorary gala in Bel Air, the elite neighborhood of Beverly Hills. Now, if I'm being honest, I would have thought of myself as the last possible person that would ever be invited to an event like this. But, I guess UCLA thought otherwise, so of course I said yes and booked my flight then and there.
The next whammy came when they told me where the event would be hosted at: the Pritzker estate. Now to be completely honest, I had no idea who the Pritzker family was, until I googled them. Then I learned that they were one of the wealthiest families in the world, with one of the largest estates in Los Angeles. In fact, the estate was so elite and secretive, that they wouldn't even let us drive up there- instead, they sent us up in shuttles, as to not give away the address of the estate to any of the attendees or uber drivers. Once we got there, my jaw absolutely dropped. It was one of the most beautiful places I'd ever seen, and also the largest. I couldn't imagine what it was like to live there, but secretly wished I could know, at least for a day. ;)
I also wished I could know what it was like feeling at home in such a ritzy environment, because being there was absolute culture shock for me. It's a completely different world, the one of celebrities and red carpets and plenty of old money, one that I was (and still am) certainly not used to. I'm not the type to be infatuated by celebrity status, or be obsessed with the elite wealthy lifestyle, so mingling with such people and overcoming the awe of the estate came with ease. But still, it was absolute culture shock for a moment. I felt a bit like a fish out of water, in my Topshop dress, while everyone else was wearing designer. I was, also, by far the youngest one there, and the only one not drinking. But what struck me as appalling the most was the atmosphere. There's something so uniquely different about LA- something much ritzier, much more arrogant, even, than the Bay Area. Having not spent much time in the LA scene, it felt as foreign as going to another country, though perhaps a little less extreme.
While the event was overall very good, and I had an absolutely wonderful evening, I did note some discrepancies between the UCLA Institute's research focus as well as the meaning behind the event itself. I was really quite disappointed to find out that the Institute was doing zero research on how to combat animal agriculture, which has been proven over and over to be, by far, the number one detriment to the planet. I was hoping to see some sort of shift in the way that they were encouraging people to eat: through less meat and dairy products, certainly, and more plant-based products. But, sadly, none of that was present. In fact, all the food served at the event was meat, too, which was disappointing for an event benefitting the environment. The director noted that they did a study showing why a grilled cheese was better than a burger, and another one encouraging the consumption of bison over beef, but neither of these really showed progress, in my opinion. Yes, it's still something, but bison and cheese are still very, very bad for the planet, even if they may not be "as bad" as beef. For an institute as huge as UCLA, I had really hoped to see more progress on their end. If not progress, then at least awareness. When I brought this topic up to many of the people who work for the Institute, many of them tried to brush it off and disregard it. Again, unfortunate, and disappointing.
Another thing that I was upset to find no headway on was in regards to the Fukushima disaster. My father, who came along with me, asked the people of the institute what they were doing to combat the catastrophic effects of this disaster. And, much to our dismay, they again said that they were doing nothing. For an event that was so detrimental to our planet, and that had poisoned a great portion of our underwater ecosystems, it was again, disheartening, to find out that the institute was doing nothing to help combat this, or at least educate their students on the effects of this disaster.
Some of you may be reading this and wondering why I'm bringing this up, especially in a partnered post. Why would I bring up anything negative in a post that I'm getting compensated for? And that is because I made a promise, first and foremost, to you guys, to always give my honest opinion. I truly had an incredible, wonderful time at the event, don't get me wrong. I met so many lovely people, and enjoyed the night thoroughly. But I just can't stay silent on the issues that were glaringly obvious to me. And this leads me into the second reason why I bring this up, which is because nothing makes me sadder than false information being spread about our planet. It makes my heart sad to see environmentalists with such a large platform, pushing false information or ignoring scientifically-proven facts. But it also lights a fire underneath me- to continue spreading information as I do. To continue educating and fighting for the planet. This is why I bring this up, because I hope that through all of this, we can all take something and learn from it.
I was (and still am) absolutely honored to have attended this event. It's forever one of the highlights of me career, and to be considered a voice for the planet alongside the likes of Russel Simmons, Courtney Cox, and Frieda Pinto is an absolute honor. It's truly something I'll carry with me forever. But alongside the honor, it was also a learning experience. Learning not necessarily what we can do for the planet, but what we can become more educated on as humans, so that we can make strides towards saving the planet. And it starts with acknowledging our biggest detriment by far: animal agriculture.
But in that same breath, it also has to start with us.
** Huge thank you to the UCLA Institute of Environmental Sciences for partnering with me on this post! All opinions are my own.