Can you share a bit about yourself, what you're passionate about, and what drives you in your work for animal advocacy?
I’m a biomedical scientist, CEO and founder of Allied Scholars for Animal Protection, and senior scientist for cultivated meat at the Good Food Institute. At Allied Scholars for Animal Protection (ASAP), we are building a unified infrastructure for campus animal advocacy. I’m driven by my passion for animals and my desire to build a more compassionate world.
Could you describe your journey in animal advocacy and how you're able to make a meaningful impact in your life and career?
I first got involved with animal advocacy over a decade ago, as a graduate student in Texas. At that time, I was pursuing cancer research to help people in need.
But then I learned that animal consumption is responsible not only for many cancers, but also diabetes, heart disease, obesity, zoonotic pandemics, antibiotic resistance, environmental destruction, and animal suffering. I realized that helping animals is among the best things I can do to help humans.
That’s why I started spending all of my free time on animal rights activism. I worked with PETA, The Humane League, Anonymous for the Voiceless, Mercy for Animals, Animal Equality, Vegan Outreach, and more. After finishing my PhD, I quickly transitioned to start using my technical background for the cultivated meat industry, developing products that will help replace cruelty-based products.
I started a very active student group while I was in grad school, and worked hard to make it as effective as possible. But I noticed that as soon as I graduated, it died because we didn’t have a good succession plan in place and there wasn’t a larger infrastructure to rely on for help with that sort of thing.
That’s why I’m aiming to construct a strong network of impactful college animal advocates across the country through my new nonprofit, Allied Scholars for Animal Protection. We want to make sure that every college student is exposed to the animal rights message and that every vegan student knows how to get active and use their career to help animals.
What does your day-to-day life look like in your role?
At ASAP, I work closely with student groups on planning their outreach tactics, community-building events, and dining hall campaigns. We provide on-the-ground training and support for campus activism. I’m frequently up late at night planning our work and making connections across the movement to support our students.
At the Good Food Institute, I conduct surveys, write reports, and do research on the state of the cultivated meat industry. I also analyze, score, and recommend grants, identify bottlenecks in the industry and potential solutions, and communicate the science of alternative proteins to the public and key stakeholders.
What initially inspired you to dedicate your time to animal advocacy? What keeps you motivated to continue?
I grew up in a middle-class family in Tehran, Iran. My mom really valued education, and worked hard to make sure we could afford piano lessons and good schooling. While I was at college in Iran, I participated in human rights protests and was nearly killed as a result. My father was hospitalized during those protests after jumping out of a building to escape the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.
I moved to the US to pursue a PhD, and due to the work I now do, which includes advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, I can’t return to Iran without risking being arrested. This means I might never see my mom again in person.
Having witnessed so much oppression for myself, I always felt a strong need to help others as much as possible. In college, I had a poster designed that discouraged people from buying goldfish during the Persian New Year celebration, a common tradition that results in millions of goldfish dying every year. When a vegetarian friend pointed out to me the hypocrisy of working to protect goldfish while continuing to eat animals myself, I was offended and upset.
But over the next couple of months, I realized that my vegetarian friend was right. As I learned about the abuses that farm animals are subjected to, I realized that these animals are sentient beings who don’t want to die. How could I keep eating them? So I went vegetarian, and later vegan.
I continue to be motivated by the fact that billions of sentient beings are being abused at every moment of every day, and that I can do something to help them. I want to build a world in which all creatures are treated with the respect and consideration that they deserve.
Are there any specific skills or areas of expertise that you find particularly valuable in your role?
My knowledge of the animal rights movement and experience with activism enables me to guide students towards the most impactful tactics.
Additionally, my scientific background is useful for my work on alternative proteins and enables me to mentor technically gifted students who want to make an impact with their career.
Can you share some of the key challenges you've encountered in your animal advocacy work, and how have you overcome them?
I’ve noticed that most student animal advocacy groups die after their student leaders graduate because there isn’t any support in place from the wider animal advocacy movement. That’s what we’re fixing at ASAP.
Additionally, many students feel shy about speaking up for animals, because our culture puts a lot of pressure on people to conform and never say anything that might offend or upset someone. Veganism is very stigmatized.
I want students to know that they have every right to speak their minds on animal rights, and that there is a network of like-minded people who can support them.
In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Our lives begin the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Based on your own journey, what suggestions or advice would you give to individuals considering a career in animal advocacy or those seeking similar roles?
Be ambitious. There aren’t enough people doing this work, and our movement needs all the help we can get. No matter what your background is, there is something you can do.
And helping animals doesn’t have to mean working at an animal advocacy nonprofit. You can also make a difference working in the government or private industry. Musicians and artists can contribute too.
The alternative protein industry doesn’t just need biologists, but also physicists, computer programmers, businesspeople, and many other specialists. For example, an AI researcher could use machine learning to model bioreactors for cultivated meat production.
Any skill that you have can be used to help animals. Even if your job doesn’t directly address the problem, you can donate to the movement and volunteer in your spare time. You can even advocate for the animals within your place of work!
For instance, Google often hosts talks, so a Google employee could host a talk on veganism, or push to have company dining halls increase plant based options. LinkedIn’s dining halls in San Francisco recently shifted to be 65% plant-based. This should be happening at every company!
No matter what career you pursue, I strongly encourage you to take part in outreach as much as you can, even if it’s only 2 hours per month. We need to grow the vegan movement, and it’s extremely important to practice effective outreach, understand how people think about veganism, and to stay connected with the victims that we’re aiming to serve. It’s all to easy to get a desk job and forget about the depth of suffering and urgency of the problem.
The most important thing is to have the right question: “How can I do everything in my power to help animals most effectively?” If you don’t have the answer yet, that’s OK. As long as you have that question and are working hard to learn more, you are set!
Is there anything else that you would like to tell others who are thinking about starting a career in animal advocacy?
If you’re a student and interested in getting involved with ASAP, please reach out! Logically, morally, statistically, emotionally, and rationally, there’s nothing better and more impactful than devoting one’s life to promoting veganism.