Vega, your sustainable pet
The biggest challenge facing our planet is the Climate Crisis. Since greenhouse gas emissions produced by omnivores are approximately twice as high as those of vegans, individuals and families can make a profound impact by switching to a plant-based diet. On the other hand, if the status quo remains the same and we continue to thoughtlessly eat the way we are currently eating, we become complicit as consumers with the meat, seafood and dairy industries – some of the most egregious polluters on the planet.
Vega is an educational game for children which provides resources to help families make the transition to a plant-based diet by involving children in household cooking. It is a sustainable digital pet which lives under a magical tree and has the power to heal nature depending on what it eats. The child needs to feed it, give it sufficient water, fruits, and caresses. Its environment and itself will only be happy and healthy if Vega is fed a plant-based diet. If not fed, its tree dies and Vega is in total burn-out. This game, along with sound effects and animation, will enchant children and make them understand what is happening in the real world. To finalize the experience, the kid will have the opportunity to share a plant-based recipe with their parents that they will be inspired to try out.
As a graphic designer, there has always been a little voice in my head saying “what is the purpose of what I am doing? What impact do I want my work to have on the world?”. I wanted my work to be more meaningful and useful in solving our society’s multifold and pressing issues. The role of a graphic designer is very broad but it is not necessarily “useful” to society in this sense. Graphic design can help a cause but does not change people’s lives directly. With technology, however, the possibilities of having a positive impact are enormous.
When I started to study communication design, I was surprised about the role a UX/UI designer has in creating a product. It constitutes what I think design should be about: helping the “user” in his/her life.
However, UX/UI design is still limited in the sense that it helps the user navigate the product but the product might not be “good” nor socially useful. With this idea in mind, I decided to take advantage of my thesis and work on sustainability.
Climate change has been a concern of mine for quite some time now. I am not really sure what brought it to my attention, but I like to think that I’ve been doing my part in helping ameliorate the situation as much as I can. For my major studio, I created a mobile application called “Miah”, which helps users find recipes of homemade and natural products. The user can also publish his/her own recipes, share them with friends, make comments and set reminders to their calendar, thereby motivating and reinforcing the user’s sustainable behavior.
During that semester, I applied to different summer internships. Raz Godelnik, one of my professors at The New School, fortuitously informed me about a socially conscious company called BBMG that is well-known for its engaging marketing and graphic design work. I ended up working there during the summer and focused my efforts on creating a comprehensive marketing report that helps marketers make companies more sustainable.
However, I still had a nagging feeling that those tools, though important and useful, are limited in scope and only help a small sector of the population, as it focused on marketers and salesman’s work process. It doesn’t address nor change the big picture. That is why I decided to continue my work on sustainability.
Significance: Why it Matters
Our society’s most important problem is climate change. Scientists from all around the world have been insisting on every institution and government that action must be taken immediately. Solutions have been found but not all have been put into effect.
When analyzing the big picture of what climate change is, three main aspects emerge. First, climate change is due to different human actions and conducts: those are the causes of the problem. Second, there are and will be dangerous and important consequences on our planet and societies. Finally, there is the importance of awareness; without awareness, nothing will change. Those aspects bring different analysis and reflection to how we can act, implying working on: the causes, the consequences, and bringing awareness to the population.
To fight climate change, we need to focus on changing the course of its causes. If we do it fast, it could make a huge difference in how our world will evolve in the next decades. There are consequences to climate change. Being prepared and already starting working on those consequences is as important as fighting climate change because we have already waited too long.
Numerous art and design projects have brought different solutions to the causes and consequences of global warming, and awareness to sustainability. Designers and artists have always had a big responsibility: to design for the good of all and with the future of our society in mind.
After deep research about climate change, I have decided to focus on the essential question: How might we help people reduce their animal food product intake?
To answer this question, I interviewed five experts in human nutrition and our food industry. Talking to them allowed me to understand our history with meat and nutrition, and how our society eats. After taking all their knowledge in, I decided to focus on helping families with children to transition to a plant-based diet.
This decision came from my own experience too. When growing up, my own mother was a smoker, and I pushed her to quit because I had learnt that she could die from it. With this in mind, I thought if I gave tools to children for them to be involved in the cooking process of their family, they would feel empowered to push the whole family to transition to a plant-based diet.
Nevertheless, it is a well-known fact that changing eating behaviors is exceedingly challenging. Westerners’ diets, in particular, are stubborn to change as they are handed down generationally and culturally. Omnivore families, despite their good intentions, find switching to veganism difficult. Even if parents understand the importance of healthy eating, children can be notoriously picky eaters and may be reluctant to explore and eat unknown fruits and vegetables. After interviewing a number of parents, I discovered a surprising insight: the more a child is involved in the cooking process, the more he/she will be willing to try new things and eat more vegetables.
I also found that many of the interviewed parents were under the impression that vegan recipes were complicated to make, and that it would be difficult and cumbersome to find all the right ingredients. My research shows that, on the contrary, there are ways to shop and cook vegan that are very simple.
My thesis project seeks to inspire young people, for them to understand the impact of their diet on the environment. By doing so, I hope to be able to not only educate children but also their parents. By reaching most generations, I hope that as their way of life changes, our capitalist food system will too.