by Christie Lagally
Originally published in City Living Seattle
In our interconnected world, we can never truly separate the fight for the rights and dignity of humans from the fight to protect the lives of all animals. It can be confusing to hear some people say that advocacy to protect animals could be a distraction from the global need to address human social welfare, but this is simply not the case.
Yet, history has only begun to tell this interconnected story. Cesar Chavez, renowned civil rights leader, labor activist and co-founder of the United Farm Workers Association, advocated for the rights of migrant farm workers while living his convictions to protect all animals.
“I became a vegetarian after realizing that animals feel afraid, cold, hungry and unhappy, like we do,” Chavez said. “I feel very deeply about vegetarianism and the animal kingdom. It was my dog Boycott who led me to question the right of humans to eat other sentient beings.”
Today, our responsibility to pursue the protection and fair treatment of humans and animals alike is being realized by Food Empowerment Project (FEP), an organization that recently opened a chapter in Seattle. FEP helps us recognize the impact of our food choices.
“We encourage choices that reflect a more compassionate society by spotlighting the abuse of animals on farms, the depletion of natural resources, unfair working conditions for produce workers, the unavailability of healthy foods in communities of color and low-income areas, and the importance of not purchasing chocolate that comes from the worst forms of child labor,” states FEP’s mission.
Animal- and human-rights activist Lauren Ornelas founded FEP after she got pushback from individuals who felt that advocating for human rights alongside animal rights was “hurting the movement.” She sought to show that just because something is vegan does not mean it is cruelty-free and started FEP to educate others on how to live a life of least harm.
FEP now takes a multifaceted approach to these issues. The organization supports families and children of farm workers, bears witness and exposes the cruelty at a chicken slaughterhouse in California and highlights the working conditions at chocolate plantations. Ornelas also speaks regularly at conferences on vegan food justice.
Seattle resident Anika Lehde championed the effort to start a Washington chapter of FEP after she heard Ornelas speak. Lehde felt that FEP shared many of the values that people in the Pacific Northwest care about, such as access to healthy food, farm worker rights and social justice, as well as animal rights.
Lehde and fellow volunteer Fernando Cuenca have implemented two projects as part of the launch of FEP in Washington state. Lehde is coordinating FEP’s effort in Seattle to educate the public about chocolate made with the worst forms of child labor, including slavery.
Lehde explains that some chocolate may seem to be cruelty-free just because it is vegan, when it is actually sourced from areas where child labor is common practice.
Lehde is working with local Seattle chocolate companies, such as Theo Chocolates and Hot Cakes Chocolates, to certify their products as “Food Empowerment Project Recommended.”
Lehde says that at least 10 companies in Seattle are now FEP-recommended; some of these chocolates are available at Vegan Haven, a grocery in Seattle’s University District.
As a local volunteer for FEP, Cuenca is arranging a school supply drive for children of migrant farm workers from July 11 to July 25; details will be announced on the FEP website at http://www.foodispower.org.
Ornelas explained that FEP started the school supply drive to support the children of farm workers; a similar drive will take place in Portland, Ore.
“It’s not an act of charity,” Ornelas said, regarding the impetus for the multi-state FEP drives, “but we are trying to right an injustice.”
Lehde says more Seattle volunteers are needed who share a conviction for social justice and animal rights. Those interested in fundraising, tabling, researching chocolate companies and helping with the school supply drive should contact email@example.com.
FEP also operates a companion website for vegan Mexican food (www.veganmexicanfood.com) and provides its website in both English and Spanish to reach a broader community.
No separation of rights
FEP takes a unique, but very necessary approach, to human and animal social justice issues because we simply cannot separate human and animal rights.
For example, the ignored welfare of slaughterhouse workers, who are often injured by exposure to chemicals or knives or sickened by unhealthy conditions should be challenged just as much as the brutal treatment and unjustly slaughter of chickens themselves.
FEP helps us see that each of us has the power to challenge injustice because “food is power.” We can select chocolate that is FEP-recommended, and we can opt for vegan food, so that our food choices every single day are truly a force for social justice for all beings.