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Alumni Spotlight // Advocacy

FOR THE GREATER GOOD

Engineer, Columnist and Animal Advocate Christie Lagally `06
Christie Lagally `06 (Photo courtesy of Christie Lagally)
Animal rights advocate Christie Lagally `06 is the Good Food Institute’s senior scientist and a columnist for City Living Seattle. (Photo courtesy of Christie Lagally)

She’s an engineer, an animal rights advocate, an editor and writer. In whatever role she fulfills in her community, Christie Lagally `06 has used her skills and experiences to create a better, more compassionate future.

Lagally graduated with a degree in organizational psychology from Sonoma State University before going on to complete her degree in mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Before she earned her master’s degree at the University of British Columbia, Lagally worked at Dynamic Structures. She also taught as an assistant instructor of mechanical engineering at the British Columbia Institute of Technology and worked as a process/mechanical engineer at Applied Filter Technology. Lagally worked as a mechanical engineer and project manager on the 777 and 77X programs at Boeing, before she joined The Good Food Institute (GFI).

At her current role as GFI’s senior scientist, Lagally helps evaluate and develop companies that produce clean (i.e., meat produced in a culture, without animal slaughter) and plant-based products. With a core team of scientists, policy experts and communications professionals, GFI provides engineering, scientific, marketing, design, legal, business and media support strategies for early-stage businesses.

Lagally’s passion for the environment and animal rights inspired her to found her own online publication Living Humane. She also writes a column on animal welfare, law and other important animal issues for City Living Seattle. Her stories have been featured in Richmond News, Northwest Pet Magazine and Northwest Prime Time. She also serves as a Washington State council secretary for the Humane Society of the United States and is a founding member of the Humane Voters of Washington, a political action committee. Lagally is a member of the National Women’s Political Caucus and served on the board of the Richmond Animal Protection Society.

In this Alumni Q&A, Lagally talks about what drew her to major in engineering at UCSB, her role at The Good Food Institute and what inspired her advocacy for animal welfare.

Where did you grow up? What interested you as a young teen?

I grew up in Golden, Colorado and as a teen I was very interested in the natural world and building things, whether it be with Legos or even natural materials like sticks, mud and leaves. Understanding how things work was always of interest to me, and I wanted to find ways to contribute to the world positively.

What drew you to choose UC Santa Barbara?

When I visited UCSB, I felt very much at home and decided to attend. It was a small enough campus with a great engineering school, and with all the natural beauty, it just felt like the right place to be. I transferred from Diablo Valley College, and I had the opportunity to finish in less time than expected thanks to the great class offerings in summer school at UCSB.

What made you decide on your major?

There was never any doubt in my mind that mechanical engineering was the right major for me. Understanding the natural world and how to make new products work is all about the basics of mechanical engineering. I also wished to have a career in aerospace or energy sectors to address my interest in space travel and my concerns about climate change. For these fields, mechanical engineering is a natural fit.

What was student life like during your time at UCSB?

I was a re-entry student at UCSB, so my student life was limited to work and school. I was proud to volunteer to tutor underrepresented students in fluid mechanics and thermodynamics. One of the biggest benefits for engineering students at UCSB was the use of the CAD Lab, a fully equipped computer lab for engineering students. At the time, most people didn’t have their own computers, and I was proud to attend a school that ensured students of all economic backgrounds could get a good education using the best software and resources via the CAD Lab.

What were some of your first jobs during college and right after graduation?

I graduated from UCSB in 2006, and I went to work for a company that made roller coasters and space telescopes. I got to work on the enclosure design for the Thirty Meter Space Telescope project and to even visit the telescopes on Mauna Kea. I also had the opportunity to work on robotic roller coasters and to program large Kuka robots. A few years later, I decided to take a job at Boeing in Seattle, WA where I had the opportunity to work on manufacturing of wings and acoustic systems on primarily the 777 and the 777X airplanes.

Christie Lagally visiting a garbanzo bean farm in Walla Walla, Washington (Photo courtesy of Christie Lagally)
Good Food Institute’s senior scientist Christie Lagally visiting a garbanzo bean farm in Walla Walla, Washington in July 2016 to learn about plant-based proteins like green chick peas. (Photo courtesy of Christie Lagally)

How did you change gears from working for Boeing to working for the Good Food Institute?

While I very much enjoyed working at Boeing, my concerns regarding climate change and the abhorrent treatment of animals in factory farms continued to weigh on my mind. Estimates vary, but up to 51 percent of the greenhouse gasses causing climate change are a result of intensified animal agriculture and our diets heavy in meat, dairy and egg consumption support this damage to our environment. Further, as I took my vanpool to Boeing each morning, I frequently saw trucks crammed full of chickens headed to slaughter. These precious and horribly abused animals were freezing on their way to slaughter as the trucks don’t even offer protection from the 70 mph wind on the highway.

This intensive, cruel treatment of animals combined with the devastating effects that animal agriculture is having on our climate, eventually led me to see that my skills as an engineer should be put to work to change this broken and brutally inhumane food system. The Good Food Institute offered me the opportunity to evaluate technology, promote the next generation of plant-based meats and clean meat (meat grown outside of an animal), and mechanical engineering is turning out to be a crucial skill for these endeavors.

Describe your role at the Good Food Institute - what is a typical day for you there?

On a typical day at GFI, I have the opportunity to evaluate new business ideas and technology for plant-based or clean meat, dairy or egg companies. Clean meat is real meat grown outside of an animal without the need for slaughter or antibiotics, and this method of production allows us to avoid fecal bacterial contamination that is inherent at slaughterhouses. Also plant-based alternatives for meat dairy and eggs only make up a small percentage of the overall market, and the vast majority of plant protein sources are still unexplored as plant-based meats. So I’m constantly amazed at how creative people are to come up with new plant-based products, or new manufacturing methods for clean meat.

At GFI, I also work on understanding the state of the industry for clean meat and plant-based products, and to understand the opportunities to change our food system. Innovations in the production of plant-based steak and production facilities for clean meat are on the horizon, and I spend much of my time coordinating people and information to streamline the development of these entities. Hence, I still get to satisfy my urge for engineering by investigating new ways we can produce plant-based meats, since right now we rely on only a few methods. There’s so much room for innovation!

What drew you to your advocacy for the Humane Society?

I serve as the Washington State Council Secretary for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). I was drawn to volunteer for the HSUS because of their efforts to ensure that both transformative as well as incremental change is made for the protection of all animals. Most Americans believe in the humane treatment of animals, yet currently farm animals have few or no protections against institutionalized abuse. This disconnect between what people believe and what is actually happening to farm animals is an injustice to both the animals and the consumers. Hence, my work with the HSUS is to lobby for the protection of all animals and to educate consumers about the choices they can make to avoid supporting animal cruelty, such as choosing cosmetics that are not tested on animals and choosing meatless meals whenever possible.

If you had unlimited budget to make one big change in your local community, what would you implement/create?

With an unlimited budget, I would build a manufacturing facility for plant-based meats to provide low cost, high protein, nutritious and convenient foods. Seattle is home to a lot of innovative technology from Boeing to Amazon to the Fred Hutch Cancer Center, yet, very little food technology has arisen in Seattle. It’s an opportunity ripe for the taking. I care very deeply about issues of food poverty, in that so many people don’t have access to quality food, both fresh produce and plant-based meat and dairy that could easily replace animal products. Producing plant-based meats on a large scale stimulates our economy and feeds the under fed with healthier, plant-based foods.

You also work as a columnist. How did you begin working for City Living Seattle - and any advice for budding columnists?

When I lived in Canada shortly after leaving UCSB, I worked for an animal shelter, and volunteered to write a column to educate people on animal issues like spay/neuter and caring for older animals. When I moved to Seattle, I was hired as a columnist for City Living Seattle to write about a range of animal related issues from living with pets to animal law.

I often encourage and mentor columnists who want to write about animals, particularly because animals are so underrepresented in our media. My advice for new animal columnists is to be factual and explain your sources, because animal issues should be addressed with the same rigor and gravity for the truth as any other quality reporting.

What makes you proud to be a Gaucho today?

I am proud to be a Gaucho because I received an exemplary engineering education that was both academically challenging and prepared me for real world engineering. Both during my time at UCSB and afterward, I’ve always been grateful that I chose to attend Santa Barbara.

What's a typical "day off" for you?

I have two high-energy dogs that ensure I never spend too much time at the computer. They insist that we spend lots of time outside, rain or shine. I also enjoy gardening, and my summer garden in Seattle consists of blueberries, lettuce, basil, zucchini, tomatoes, strawberries, potatoes and kale.

Read Christie Lagally’s column AMONG THE ANIMALS in City Living Seattle and find out more about her work at The Good Food Institute at gfi.org

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