“There were seriously nights where I would be kept awake thinking about ways to create quality, ethical, and sustainable alternatives to the current broken system.”
Erin Kim is a law student at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. She graduated from the University of British Columbia with a B.A. from the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social Justice in 2012. Erin was drawn to law with the hope of litigating in animal rights and social justice, but was later inspired to rework her approach to these issues after meeting Josh Tetrick of Hampton Creek Foods and others working towards radical alternatives to conventional methods of animal agriculture and food production. A lifelong animal lover, Erin’s belief in the potential for biotechnology and social entrepreneurship to create a better world for animals, the environment, workers, and consumers led to her becoming part of the New Harvest community in April 2014. She plans to work in the advancement of sustainable alternatives to animal-derived products upon the completion of her law degree.
New Harvest: Hey Erin! Happy to chat with you! How has law school been for you this past semester?
Erin Kim: It’s been challenging! But in the best possible way. I’ve been all over the map academically – I was in business school for awhile, studied Human Geography, and finally graduated with a B.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies – and Law is completely different from everything else I’ve studied. I’m also not the most scholarly person. I’ve always preferred the practical side of things. So the learning curve for me was a steep one! But I’m so happy to be working on my J.D. I’m only about 1/3 of the way through and already it’s opening crazy doors that I never thought possible before.
NH: That’s exciting! When do you graduate?
E: I’m set to graduate in the spring of 2016, which already feels like it’s creeping up on me!
NH: What do you plan to do after graduation?
E: The funny thing is that I had my heart set on becoming a lawyer for years. Close to the end of my B.A. I just “knew” that I had to go to law school, and I had all these ideas about being an animal rights and social justice activist lawyer. I do love the power that a legal education affords, but just two months into law school I saw Josh Tetrick (who also happens to be a law graduate!) of Hampton Creek Foods speak at an animal law conference at Stanford University, and it pretty much changed my life! I’m now specializing in sustainability, biotech, and business law. I have a personal interest in fashion as well, so the cultured leather developments are very meaningful to me. After I finish this degree I plan on working in some capacity in sustainable, vegan business. I have some kinda crazy ideas, but that’s about all I’ll say for now!
NH: Oh how intriguing, we’ll look forward to hearing your ideas! How did you first discover New Harvest?
E: After the animal law conference in 2013, I got sort of obsessed with working towards solutions for problems related to food, animals, and sustainability that are attractive to people in themselves, and by that I mean not feeling like you’re twisting peoples’ arms in some way or just appealing to morals. There were seriously nights where I would be kept awake thinking about ways to create quality, ethical, and sustainable alternatives to the current broken system. I read about companies like Modern Meadow and Beyond Meat as well as New Harvest and tried to keep up with any news on that sort of stuff as it was happening. I then met an academic here at the U of Alberta with similar interests who happened to be connected to New Harvest, and we started talking about possible ways that I as a law student could help out in the movement. And he actually suggested that I reach out to Isha and see what could be done.
NH: What happened next?
E: I sent Isha an e-mail introducing myself and stating why I was interested in contributing to New Harvest. When you send out things like that sometimes you half expect it to go to junk mail, so I tried not to get too excited about it initially. At that point I still thought of New Harvest as a far off organization that maybe someday after I’d put in a few years as a lawyer I could get involved with. But within a few days Isha had sent me the nicest e-mail back, and we set up our first of many Skype chats. And now, here I am!
NH: And we are so happy to have you! In fact, we are leaving next week for the 2014 National Animal Rights Conference in Los Angeles! What are you anticipating the event to be like?
E: I’m so ridiculously excited about this conference. It’ll be my first time attending this particular one, but I’ve wanted to go for years. I’m happy to be able to represent the University of Alberta while I’m there too. I’ve always loved going to conferences like this because sometimes it can be hard to meet people with like-minded academic and career interests, vegan biotech still sort of being a growing area. So I try to take every opportunity I can to get out there and network my butt off! I used to roll my eyes at the idea of networking before but now I truly love it. Plus, I’ll take any excuse I can to spend time in California, especially L.A.
NH: What is New Harvest’s role going to be at the Animal Rights Conference?
E: I know that being an organization aimed at advancing cultured animal products (harmlessly though, I should add), there can and will be at least a little bit of backlash about what we’re doing. I was a little bit skeptical myself and had to do some reading before I got involved. So I think we could encounter some skeptics, and maybe people with certain misconceptions and fears. I hope we’ll be able to have good conversations and answer some questions that a lot of people have about what we do and what we envision for the future. Honestly, I hope it gets people thinking and talking more about us and I hope what they do talk about is based on facts and not fear. I’m also very open to listening to peoples’ criticisms. It’ll only help us to grow and become better at what we do.
NH: Love the optimism! Are there any speakers you are especially enthused to see present?
E: So many! Captain Paul Watson of course. He is so brave for doing what he does – I have a lot of respect for him. Gene Baur from Farm Sanctuary, and anyone from Mercy for Animals too. And of course I can’t wait to see Isha speak!
NH: Do you think a majority of people at the conference will be thrilled about the prospects of cultured meat, or will they be skeptical of the technology?
E: I expect more of a positive reaction. I think the skeptics can be swayed too. I was one, and I can understand a lot about where the hesitation comes from. But if we want to see an end to factory farming, I’m certain that New Harvest will play a role. It already is! And I really do believe that just a few years, or maybe even less, from now the conversations we’ll be having about food and sustainability will be miles ahead of where we’re at now.
NH: You are also New Harvest’s new Twitter personality! What has that been like? Have you made any interesting connections with people via Twitter?
E: It’s been so much fun! I’ve been following the news on topics related to New Harvest for a while now: food, biotech, sustainability, animal rights and welfare issues, and fashion. What gets talked about in the media is such a reflection of society, and without a doubt, the interest in cultured meat as a solution is growing. That’ a huge source of motivation for me in my work. There are supporters everywhere. Just the other day Grimes (the musician) followed and tweeted about us! Lots of other cool people doing really mind-blowing things are following and retweeting us too. Like I know Rob Rhinehart of Soylent is a fan of what we’re doing, and Josh Balk of Hampton Creek. So that’s all very exciting. And it’s only the beginning!
NH: True, the beginning of an exciting and unpredictable journey for New Harvest! Thanks for chatting with us, Erin!
E: If you’d like to get in touch with Erin and find more about her interests, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org