About a month ago, 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 could ever go to an event like this. But, I guess, UCLA thought otherwise, so of course I said Y E S 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, home of one of the wealthiest families in the world. I definitely had expectations, given the fame associated with the estate, but anything I could have ever imagined was way passed exceeded. Never in my life had I seen a more stunning home, with the most gorgeous view of all of Los Angeles. I can only imagine what it would be like to live in such a grand estate. I would (honestly) love to know.
It was absolute culture shock coming into this environment, full of red carpets and celebrities and lots and lots of old money. It's a completely different world, one that I was (and still am) certainly not used to. But with that said, it was so cool to be able to step into it for an evening.
While the event was (overall) very good, 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 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.
Overall, it was a really great event. I had a lot of fun, and it was such an incredible experience. I do think that we still have a very long way to go in terms of environmental education at UCLA, but I hope that one day, the institute will make more leeway when it comes to researching and educating about two of the biggest environmental detriments.
** Thanks to the UCLA Institute of Environmental Sciences for partnering with me on this post!