The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship offers participants the chance to explore their “absolute passion.” This mission appealed to Salwa Sidahmed ’23. After graduation, Sidahmed will visit five countries to follow her passion: plant-based practices and sustainability.

Sidahmed began her plant-based journey after watching two documentaries in high school, one focused on the environmental impacts of meat consumption and the other on the ethical implications of widescale factory farming. She became vegetarian soon after. When she arrived at Hamilton, she joined the Vegan and Animal Advocacy Society, which prompted her transition to a vegan diet.

Salwa Sidahmed ’23 in action during a sustainability event
Salwa Sidahmed ’23 in action during a sustainability event

Similar to her personal choices, her Watson Fellowship considers both ethical and environmental implications of plant-based practices, but it doesn’t stop there. Her project will contemplate the effect of plant-based practices on building greater community, as well as the cultural and economic sides of the issue.

“I honestly don’t want to limit [my project] to one specific path because the topic is inherently broad and open, and I want to keep my mindset that way too,” Sidahmed said.

The Watson Fellowship, a national fellowship awarded to graduating seniors from 41 partner institutions, will provide Sidahmed a $40,000 stipend to explore her passion abroad. The logistics of her project, however, fall to her. She is currently working on building contacts in each country — farmers, nonprofits, labor unions, indigenous organizations — from whom she will learn. She anticipates these contacts will help guide what she does and where she goes in the country, each of which she specifically chose for its unique lens on plant-based practices and sustainability.

“I wanted to have a diverse array of experiences and relationships to animal agriculture and vegan-vegetarian practice in general,” Sidahmed said.

She’ll begin her year-long journey in the United Kingdom, which has a long cultural and economic history of relying on animal agriculture overlaid by a strong contemporary vegan movement. She chose Morocco because it is the most climate-forward country in the Middle East North African region. With large environmental justice movements in this country, she hopes to learn how food sovereignty and restructuring global food systems can offer a mode of environmental justice. Taiwan was chosen for its large Buddhist population, which aligns with a general practice of vegetarian/veganism and helps make it the “vegan capital of Asia.” 

Salwa Sidahmed ’23

Majors: Social Justice and Sustainability (Interdisciplinary Major) and French and Francophone Studies

Hometown: Iowa City, Iowa

High School: City High School

Finally, she’ll visit Australia and New Zealand. Australia offers an interesting case: it is the second highest consumer of meat per capita in the world, but it also faces large environmental vulnerabilities. Sidahmed wants to learn how animal agriculture fits into Australia’s sustainability practices and goals. And, she chose New Zealand as a place to explore indigenous environmentalism through learning about Maori conceptions of land and sustainability.

“More than anything, I’m really looking forward to building community with the people in the communities I visit,” Sidahmed said. “I’m also coming from a very limited Western perspective, so I’m really excited to learn about different cultures’ relationships to agriculture and food.”

Sidahmed leaves for London on July 16 and will not return to the United States until the following July. Though she anticipates challenges, she cannot wait to begin.

“I’m really excited to be able to explore something that I’m interested in and passionate about from completely different lenses,” Sidahmed said. “I’ve never had exposure to a lot of these views and probably never would have without the opportunity of the Watson,” she added.

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