Vegan by moral imperative

Pierce College philosophy professor Cara Gillis poses for a photograph. Photo: Steve Palma

Enclosed in an art-covered office with an open window and poised on a large, silver fitness ball, Pierce College philosophy professor Cara Gillis wore no green.

But in vibrant red jeans and a deep purple long-sleeve, the vegan cyclist embodied a green lifestyle as she discussed animal ethics, the environment and a paperless Pierce College.

Completing four degrees in philosophy, Gillis’ education has immersed her in modern applications of ethics- bioethics, environmental ethics and animal ethics- allowing her to explore the moral and practical sides of going green.

“I try to reduce my carbon footprint,” Gillis said.

Originally a rower, Gillis fell into cycling as a form of physical therapy after a back injury.

Her success and fascination with the strategy of team cycling propelled her into six years of racing on professional teams, including the Canadian Cycling Association National Team.

“There’s a very cerebral element to cycling that I like very much. It’s kind of like a rolling chess game,” Gillis said, explaining how a team of cyclists protect their leader from exhaustion and harm to secure the win. “It’s like protecting your king.”

Though Gillis and her 54-year-old partner made for an unusual team during last summer’s Race Across America cycling challenge, a 3,000-mile national race, they still beat out younger, all-male teams by 15 hours, setting a new course record for the two-person mixed division.

To prepare for the race, Gillis cycled up to 10 hours a day, peddling for nearly eight hours on weekend rides.

“I slept 12 hours in seven days. It was brutal,” Gillis said of the race last summer.

Next summer, Gillis plans to complete the race alone, blogging the challenges of finding vegan food at any spot across the country as she races.

Aside from cycling on the national front, Gillis bikes to reduce her carbon footprint.

“We don’t buy new cars,” Gillis said of her and her husband’s practice of letting cars run until they die.

Whenever she can avoid a ride in the dark, Gillis rides her bike from her home in Silver Lake to Pierce College- about a 25-mile ride.

“I can avoid all the traffic,” Gillis said. “It’s great.”

Once in the classroom, Gillis stays environmentally conscious by refusing to print her syllabus and printing tests on small half-sheets of paper.

“It bugs me how so many professors have printed out their syllabi for years,” Gillis said.

Pairing environmental practice with philosophy at Pierce, Gillis developed a new class on environmental ethics last year.

“It’s about knowing our relationship with the environment,” Gillis said. “The core group I ended up with was really engaged.”

Along with theory on morality and rights, Gillis introduces animal ethics as well as the national and global implications of agribusiness.

However, she doesn’t leave philosophy in the classroom.

“I’m mostly vegan for animal suffering reasons,” Gillis said. “My parents were always really upfront with me about where things come from. I didn’t want to be responsible for the suffering that these animals go through.”

Sympathetic to animal suffering, Gillis and her husband have rescued two dogs and a cat from either euthanasia or injury.

Though Gillis covers euthanasia in her bioethics course, she expressed the striking reality of the topic when confronted by her sick animals.

“It’s easy to talk about it in a classroom…” Gillis said as she trailed off.

But each day at Pierce College and at home, Gillis continues to marry theory and practice as she walks the path toward a green lifestyle.