Soon after Professor Renan Larue joined UCSB’s French department and began teaching a freshman seminar on veganism, he found himself petitioning the university to double the seats in his class, which was full within a few days. “My point was to give students [an] idea of how rich veganism is,” explained Larue.
His one-unit class, Introduction to Vegan Studies, meets Thursday nights to explore the intersection between vegetarian and vegan food choices and philosophy, touching on politics, economics, religion, and psychology. It’s the first of its kind in the county, but a longtime “dream” for Larue, who’s been studying the issue in French universities and at the University of Montreal for the past decade.
“In France it was a little bit ridiculous,” said French-born Larue of his research, which he calls better received in the United States. “It shows something is happening in the U.S. and California,” he said, referencing the nation’s increased awareness of “philosophical and economic problems in food topics.” His latest book, Le végétarisme et ses ennemis (which translates to Vegetarianism and Its Enemies) traces the ethical debate over eating animals back to the Pythagoreans and Stoics.
Tackling the topic of veganism and humor, students in the winter quarter seminar discussed “why people tend to make fun of” vegetarians and vegans, as well as who chooses a meatless or animal-product-free diet. “What are the jokes made against them?” and “What are the jokes made by vegetarians and vegans against those people?” were two questions Larue posed to students.
Last month, the class hosted a talk by UMass Boston professor and vegan activist Dr. Melanie Joy, whose book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows popularized the term “carnism,” the culturally ingrained belief system that it is natural to eat some animals and cruel to eat others. Another speaker, entrepreneur and animal-welfare activist Ethan Brown, shared with Larue’s students the idea behind Beyond Meat, the vegan meat-alternative company he founded.
In spring, Larue will teach a course on vegan literature, in which UCSB undergrads may delve deeper into the history of debate around vegetarianism and veganism. With plans to bring a vegan rabbi to speak with students, Larue says the class will study food at the intersection of religious and social philosophies.