Thursday, April 12, 2018

Fight for the Ocean: August 30, 2018: In honor of Dr. Sylvia Earle

As some of you might remember from my previous blogs, sharks are my favorite animal. I love the ocean and everyone and every thing in it. I feel as if I am constantly drawn to it, which makes the fact that I get seasick a horrible irony.

I have always loved the ocean, even though growing up in Texas a visit to the ocean was at least four hours away. When I was in high school, I took a marine biology class as an elective because I wanted to be a marine biologist. I remember watching a film showing barrels of toxic materials being dumped into the ocean and they stated they would last for 50 years. I found that incredibly concerning and was surprised that they didn’t explain what was going to happen when those 50 years were up.

Later, as part of the course, we had a weekend field trip to the coast where we got on a boat that dredged up as much as its huge net could hold. They dumped a variety of sea creatures on the deck of the boat. Admittedly, it was amazing to see these incredible animals, but at the same time, it was clear they were suffering. A friend and I spent the entire time picking up the animals and putting them back in the ocean as quickly as we could.

I also refused to dissect as part of this course. I remember the teacher pulling me out in the hallway and telling me I was a big baby! She kept saying I was acting like a baby, that I would never be able to be a marine biologist, and that I had to dissect. Of course I didn’t.

When I went to college, I was still planning on being a marine biologist and so when I started my first day of the biology class, I explained to the professor that I did not plan on dissecting and asked that he provide me with something else to do. I did tell him about the alternatives that existed at that time.

Recently, I watched a documentary on Netflix called Mission Blue. I played it in the background as I worked, figuring this was another documentary about people exploring the ocean. But as I started to catch bits and pieces, I realized it was about a woman exploring the ocean. Then, in response to a question, I heard her say, “I don’t eat fish.” Sorry for the pun, but I was hooked.

That woman is oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle.

As I know not everyone has access to Netflix, I just wanted to share some of this film and why she inspired me.

In an interview she is asked if she is radical about protecting the oceans. I loved her response, as I could truly relate to it. She said that if she seemed like a radical it might be because she sees things others do not (as she has spent thousands of hours diving), and that if others had the opportunity to see what she has seen, along with the perspective she has gained, she would not seem like a radical.

Dr. Earle, who is now 83, talks about how much the world has changed in her lifetime which makes it more real and, of course, sad.

She said that 60 years ago people did not believe that we could harm the ocean, which puts those barrels I saw in the film being dumped into perspective. This seems so hard for me to believe, but we have had such ignorant rationalizations regarding our treatment of not only this planet and of non-human animals but also our treatment of humans.

As she often points out, however, now we know better, and we need to do something.

She empathizes with the animals about how they have no idea why their world is changing, but we know why.

Even the filmmaker talks about not knowing who she was before he saw her speak, and that is a huge reason why I am writing this blog.

Young girls and women need to know about her and her work.

As a proud Chicanx who feels robbed about not learning about my people and my culture growing up (only having learned white colonist history), I also feel robbed about not knowing about many women leaders and activists. 
In fact, the only women interviewed in the documentary are Dr. Earle herself and her daughter; other than that, it’s mainly white men (even in Mexico, no Mexicans were interviewed), so it is really important for us to make sure people know about women like Dr. Earle, as they will inspire even more women to do what they want to do.

I was annoyed during parts of the documentary as she was asked about her previous marriages, how they ended, if she had children, and how she balanced her passion and her family. I feel as if I rarely hear men asked about balancing their lives.

The documentary also showed how the media focused on her being a woman on her explorations with coverage quotes such as “70 men and one woman” or “five women and one blow dryer.”

One of my favorite exchanges:

Interviewer: So you sort of became famous after this. I mean, you became a bit of a public face for science. And it was also great ‘cause you were not only smart, but you were beautiful and you made that okay.
Sylvia: Well, never occurred to me that it wasn’t okay.

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t go into what she was up against being a woman in this field in the 1950s, but they did have another great quote from her about one of the explorations: It didn’t occur to her that women need not apply.

I love that she didn’t sugarcoat things.

In 1990, by presidential appointment, she became the chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She talks about how she went to only one meeting of the fisheries council and was never allowed to go again. She told them to stop killing blue fin tuna—she ended up resigning.

I also appreciated her humility while she encouraged other people to dive. “If I can do it, you can do it. I’m not Superwoman.” Though scuba diving is an expensive endeavor, I did appreciate that she wanted it to seem like you didn’t have to be a man or “special” woman to be able to do it.

I am also writing this blog because I loved that Dr. Earle was not one to refer to those living in the oceans as statistics. It was again what happens when women get their voices heard. She spoke about the animals.

She talks about how the animals are innocent.

Discussing BP’s oil spill in the Gulf, she talks about how frustrating and agonizing it was to watch because  she was aware of all that was there.

It is one thing to want to explore the oceans and share with others who live there, but it is so much more important to fight for them.

One of her explorations allowed her to live underwater for two weeks:
“Outside with the creatures and you get to know them as individuals. You actually see this group of five angelfish that are always there first thing in the morning and they have different attitudes, different personalities. That’s I think what has given me a different perspective than most probably have. Not just about the ocean but about the creatures who live there.”

She also talks about the need to not kill these animals for any reason:
“We don’t have to kill fish to get the omega oils that we really value and that are good for us. We can get them from the plants that the fish eat.”
She went to a fish market where there were rows and rows of tuna. You could tell in her face that she was pained and talked about them being babies.

And we know why, right? She got to know the fish. Just like many people get to know dogs, cats, and bunnies. When we get to know them, we see their personalities and we get to know how they react when they are happy and when they are in pain.

To think of all the sea critters who are killed by the billions.

Towards the end of the documentary, Dr. Earle stated, “If I could be born anywhere in time it would be now because we know and we understand what we didn’t know 50 years ago.”

Food Empowerment Project is declaring August 30, Dr. Earle’s birthday, to be Fight for the Ocean Day. I don’t think we can be passive. We must fight for every living creature in the ocean—for their lives.

We are calling on people to:

1. Do an ocean clean up on August 30!

If you live near a sea shore, grab a bucket and some friends and spend a few hours cleaning up to help the ocean and all who live there!

As someone who has never lived close to the ocean, I understand that you might not live near one, either —so clean up the lakes, streams, and rivers.

F.E.P. will be organizing a clean-up in the North Bay, and we hope you can join us!

If you want others to join you, let us know (info (at) and we will create a list of locations to post on our website.

2. Stop eating creatures from the ocean!

These animals suffer tremendously and we MUST do our part to stop the suffering we inflict on them (and all animals) and the ocean. Please stop eating them.
You can learn more here: 

More about veganism:

3. Learn more about Dr. Earle’s organization Mission Blue
and their goal to have 20%
of oceans protected by 2020. Please visit:

Typically, I am very uncomfortable asking for donations, but I have so many ideas on how we could create a larger campaign to fight for the oceans. 

In honor of my 30-year vegan anniversary, and to help get programs like this off the ground, please consider a donation:

Monday, March 12, 2018

Is it wrong to start having hope?

I tend to have a lot of thoughts rolling around in my head, but lately I have not had a lot of time to write a proper blog. I hope you all don’t mind me sharing some of my ramblings with you.

One of my feelings is wondering if it’s wrong to start having hope.

There is so much going on, not only in my world, but in the world around us and in the animal movement, and most of it is not positive.

So why is it that I am finally starting to have some hope?

For so many years I (and others) have held on to secrets of female victims of not only sexual harassers in the animal movement but also both men and women bullies in the animal movement.

I have been bullied myself in this movement by both employers and people in general, as well as by activists who didn’t like the work of F.E.P. and who have tried to silence me and my work and prevent us from getting funding. And then there are some who have just never liked that I haven’t bought into their ways.

I know that not all of the harassers or bullies have been exposed. The fact that some have is an incredible relief, though there are more organizations that need to be cleared of racists, bullies, and harassers.

Although I know many people are disheartened by the acts of people who they once held in high esteem and are possibly feeling saddened―or worse, lost―I feel for you. But please try to remember that the responsibility is really on those who committed these actions.

Please know these revelations ARE progress and mean a better future for human animals who work to advocate for animal rights/liberation. This, overall, means better news for the animals too.

If you have ever worked in an environment where there is a bully, part of your job becomes working to protect yourself and others, and the bullying itself takes time away from helping the animals.

I will state again that many are still out there who have not been exposed, but I am very hopeful that more people will speak out.

I know there has been sympathy for some of these harassers and also concern that they themselves are being bullied, but at the end of the day, our work is for the animals, and these organizations will only be stronger without these employees and with employees who do not spend half of their days talking to other staff, their family, friends, partners, etc., about how badly they are treated.

Trust me. It is trauma, and when you are being traumatized, you talk to others so you feel less alone. Personally, my health was impacted by a bully in our movement to the point where I had to wear a heart monitor, and the doctor was able to pinpoint that my heart palpitated every time I was interacting with this person. The doctor’s recommendation: quit your job. My response: you don’t understand – I want to do the work for the animals!

Why do I have hope here? Because Food Empowerment Project does want to work with other animal groups, but we will not work with groups that have problematic people because they lead to problematic actions.

The idea that even one group right now has cleaned house – it is giving me hope. A bully is gone from an organization.

Another reason to have hope? Those young people in Parkland, Florida, who are taking control of the horrible situation they have endured and using their voices, their votes, and their power to not only create change but to demand it.

When I was in college, one of my jobs for a number of years was at Blockbuster Video. One night, right before we closed, a man put a gun to my face and asked for all of the money out of my register. He told me to kiss the ground, and I remember thinking there is no reason for him not to shoot me as he has the money and I had absolutely nowhere to hide. (Of course, I also was thinking I was not going to kiss the ground as I was wearing a skirt.) He promised to kill my boss and me if we moved in the next 10 minutes. It has taken me decades to get over getting nauseated at the sight of a gun.

I can’t even imagine what it must be like for these young people to have gone through hearing the shots and running for their lives … and like they have stated – to have adults do nothing to take a stand to protect them.

They are inspiring and they are here and now and our future. They are looking out for one another, and that gives me hope for a future that is stronger, more compassionate, and just.

Overall, my hope is coming from people who are speaking the truth – even if they are scared, they are doing it anyway – they are doing it for the greater good, not just themselves.

And I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes:

Leave safety behind. Put your body on the line. Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind – even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants. And do your homework.
―Maggie Kuhn

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The former employee felt the HR department was more committed to protecting the organization’s image than its employees

Earlier this month (name withheld) married a subordinate of his, whom he courted on the job. (Name withheld) resigned, and her resignation also raises questions about the organization’s reported inaction when faced with sexual harassment allegations, not to mention retaliatory tendencies.

And he’s not alone. The organization had to fire the leader of its campaign as part of an investigation into misconduct and abusive behavior.

Several people under investigation by journalists have threatened to sue if reporters print allegations.

The stories above are all about the SEIU, a union working to get workers paid $15 an hour. Given that the union is about justice and equity, I find this behavior inexcusable and frankly frightening. If a system of abuse is covered up from the top, it allows others to get away with it. I am sure most of you agree that the sexual harassment of women and bullying in general are unacceptable. (See references below.)

I hope that you will still agree with me when I confirm to you that this has been going on in the animal movement for decades. This blog is way overdue, but I have to admit, I never had a clear focus on how to discuss these issues. My apologies as more and more women have been victimized and many of the so-called “leaders” of this movement have gotten away with this debauchery. And still more activists (male and female) have had to deal with cruel treatment by their bosses who treat them as disposable since there are always more activists willing to work for low pay for the animals. (another problematic issue that I speak out against).

In the past couple of weeks, within a four-day period, I spoke to two very different women impacted by men in two very different types of animal protection organizations. Although the actions of the men are different, the reaction from the organizations was the same: protect the men and the image of the organization.

Women have long put up with sexual harassment, innuendo, and stalking by men in this movement. Women of color have dealt with bullying by both men and women in this movement who have tried to make them feel inferior. It is unfortunate how many men and women are complicit in these cover-ups; meanwhile, women (many of whom are emboldened by their partners) have treated other women cruelly.

This is more outrageous when you consider our movement is predominately made up of women and the leadership skews male. You have young women who are put in uncomfortable situations and who might ignore their inner voices, telling themselves that these men are important. And when they listen to their inner voices and speak out, they are discouraged from doing so publicly because it could “hurt the animals” or worse, they are threatened with lawsuits. 

Some women are forced out while the perpetrators are allowed to keep their jobs.

I have been trying to find my voice on this issue, as some of the women are fearful of naming names, since many of the men involved are in positions of power. Worse, some of the men have used the law as a weapon to silence the women they have assaulted or harassed.

But a huge thank you to Ari Trujillo-Wesler for reminding me that I need to do what is within my power.

So, acting on that:
Food Empowerment Project’s board or staff will not speak on panels with known sexual harassers or appear in photos or films with them.

·       Food Empowerment Project will strive to not be on panels with bullies or sexual harassers, but we know many bullies exist behind the scenes in this movement, so we can only do our best. (We have been doing this to the best of our ability at conferences, and it goes for racists too.)

·       Food Empowerment Project has a zero-tolerance policy for any type of sexual harassment by our employees or volunteers, which will result in automatic dismissal.

·       For all speakers and performers hired by Food Empowerment Project, if you are found to be propositioning anyone at our events, you will be violating our contract terms and will not be paid.

Suggestions to other organizations

·       If you send employees out of town on business, you can afford to pay them to stay in hotels versus staying with other activists—put it in your budget. Too many men in this movement have used “saving money” as an excuse to stay overnight with female activists, putting these women in compromising and uncomfortable situations.

·       Organizations need to have HR departments or have someone such as a board member or advisory board member (not the ED or founder) be the point person for employees to discuss problems with. This should not be an employee who is in a relationship with the founder or president of the organization.

·       Be sure to have a policy in place that prohibits staff from using “the animals”* as an excuse to treat others badly or not expose the bad behavior of others.**

·       Enact policies to deal with and if necessary remove sexual harassers and bullies from the workplace.

·       When it comes to bullies (very much including women) who are in positions of power within organizations, have board members reach out to people who leave, quit, or are terminated from organizations to find out why. We need legitimate boards for all organizations and hold those organizations, especially those with large turnover rates, accountable. Please stop burying your head in the sand.

There is a lot more to say about how men treat women and how the overall movement treats women of color, but the urgency of the current situation makes me feel as if my organization needs to speak out now.

We live in a world where the abuse of non-human animals is inescapable, many of us feel their pain deeply, and to enter a movement where we should feel comfortable but instead feel unsafe is a true betrayal not only to the human animals but the non-human animals as well.

I write this anticipating the amount of pushback I will receive, but enough is enough.
¡Ya Basta!

**I acknowledge that I have used this phrase as a way to guilt trip activists into working harder, and for this I apologize. I stopped working in the animal movement for a number of years after working with US organizations with bullies at the head (that had a legacy of people being abused before and decades after me), and it wasn’t until I worked for a non-animal organization that I learned to be a better leader (I say with much humility) … which is an ongoing process.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

They were lined around the block (update of school supply drive 2017)

Alejandro feeling proud! Photo by In Her Image Photography

When we arrived on Sunday, August 6, to deliver the school supplies to the children of farm workers living in the Watsonville area, they were already lined up around the block, standing in the hot sun. And they stood there for hours as we allowed the children to pick out their backpacks, one by one—more than 306 of them at that location.

The parents thanked us, blessed us, and helped their kids pick out their backpacks. Some of the kids hugged their new backpacks, some jumped up and down when they saw the one they wanted while pointing them out and tugging their parents over, and of course we had those sad faces when we had run out of their favorites. But when they saw the goodies inside, everything changed—paper, crayons, folders, markers, and more for the younger kids, while the older kids also received binders, calculators, and more.

Although it was a hot day with the sun being particularly strong and our team was parched and getting sunburned, we all were quick to remind ourselves of the lives these farm workers live and what they endure to not only help their children succeed but also put food on our tables. Our discomfort was nothing in comparison.

Food Empowerment Project
(F.E.P.) is an ethically-based vegan organization, and although we recognize the environmental and health benefits when eating vegan, we promote veganism because we do not want to contribute to the suffering and death of non-human animals. And as a vegan food justice organization that encourages people to consume more fruits and vegetables, we acknowledge the injustices that farm workers face, and we want to do our part to help right some of those wrongs.

For the fourth time, F.E.P. has coordinated a school supply drive for the children of farm workers.  We know how much they sacrifice for their children, and we do the school supply drive, not as an act of charity, but as a means of thanking them for all of their work while also making sure their children know how much we want them to succeed (and what superstars they are!).

The farm workers and organizations
First and foremost, thanks to the farm worker organizations that donated supplies. As in the past, we were able to work with the Center for Farmworker Families (CFF), the Graton Day Labor Center, Movimiento Cultural de la Union Indigena, and the United Farm Workers.

Drop-off locations
A huge thanks to Sandra & Joel Gluck and Billy Lovci for coordinating our drop-off locations and finding even morewe are so lucky to have your help!

A big thanks to all
drop-off locations that promoted and gathered the school supplies. We could not do this without the generosity of their space and their strong belief in this effort:
Center for Employment Training (San José); Assemblymember Ash Kalra’s office for securing and overseeing three locations in San José, one at City Hall, and the other at his state office and the Village Square Branch Library; La Peña Cultural Center (Berkeley); Marin Humane (Novato); Sanctuary Bistro (Berkeleythey also offered a 15% discount to those who brought school supplies); Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Santa Rosa (Glazer Center);  Stanford Prevention Research Center; Grand Lake Theatre (Oakland); Two Mammas Vegan Kitchen (Oakland); Rainbow Grocery Collective (San Francisco); Whole Foods Market (Noe Valley); Kissable Skin (San Juan Bautista); Discovery Learning Center (Santa Cruz); and Pachamama Alliance (San Francisco).

Just like last year, the Latino Employee Resource Group of PG&E served as a drop-off location for their offices. This year, we dedicated the drive to Kentara Padron, who recently passed away. He connected with me when we did our first public drive and wanted to collect at PG&E. You can learn more about him here: We are saddened and so sorry to lose his creative energy in this world.

Donations to our office:
Thank you so much to everyone who had school supplies shipped directly to our office. Our hearts were overflowing and so was our office! It was incredible! And, also, when we were running short of school supplies, thanks to all of you who shipped more, helped us do a call out, and stretched your budget to help!

This proved to be a very successful way of collecting supplies and one that we will continue.

And thank you to Mike Giottis, who organized a sing-along to the musical Hamilton in Petaluma, where they collected school supplies as well as took cash donations ($10― a Hamilton!)! We used the money they collected to buy needed supplies.

Picking up and packing!!

A big thanks to Billy Lovci and Ryan Frasier for helping us pick up the school supplies! That might sound easy, but schedules have to be coordinated.

Another huge thanks to the volunteers who helped to pack up the school supplies as well as drove to the various packing locations. Rohnert Park Library volunteers: Erika Galera, Sandra & Joel Gluck, Abbey Levine, Shelly & Eveline Welch, Linda Welch, Tara Baxter, Heidi Margocsy, Chef Evangelina Perez-Bechtel and John Bechtel, and Mark Hawthorne for treating everyone to lunch. A big thanks to Janet Shirley for finding space for us to do our packing in San Rafael, and thanks to her amazing team that came out to help pack and donated supplies as the day went on! Thanks also go out to the additional volunteers (who we have names for!) who also assisted: Erika Galera, Mark Hawthorne, Sandra & Joel Gluck, Bee Uytiepo, Kevin Cressa, Yvonne Goodrich and her wonderful son Jackson, and Sujatha Ramakrishna. And finally, for the team who put in a long, hard day at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in San José: Erika Galera, Jeremy Bradley, Mark Hawthorne, Chayanne Bardmess, Billy & Jasmine Lovci, Galera family (Adrian, Isaiah & Kristi), Sharon Daraphonhdeth, Lisa Roach, Lynnae Galea, Andrea Wilson, Bobby White, Skye Beaber, and Sujatha Ramakrishna.

More Delivery Details +

As you read up at the top, we made our delivery in Watsonville on a hot day. One of the young students, Alejandro, jumped into the back of the rental truck where we had overflowing backpacks. Turns out that Alejandro is seven and wants to be an artist. He was absolutely adorable and made everyone laugh when he was being silly and started to sing “I believe I can fly” as he was on the edge of the truck. He hung out until his family was in line to pick their supplies. We were sure to put extra art supplies in his bag to help him on his journey.

e did not have to turn anyone away as we had enough. However, we were told that after we left more families came by and a waiting list was started.

Thanks to Tara Baxter, Jeremy Bradley, Sharon
Daraphonhdeth, Erika Galera, Mark Hawthorne, George Lin, Heidi Margocsy and Tatiana Siegenthaler for all of their help with that delivery. It was incredibly rewarding, but also an exhausting experience.

That is why we were so lucky to have some of our supporters welcome us into their home and treat us to a vegan feast when we were done!

During the following week, Erika and I also delivered school supplies to the office of the United Farm Workers in Santa Rosa, to the Graton Day Labor Center, and to Movimiento Cultural de la Union Indigena.

This year was different than those in the past—for our drive and for those who we seek to support.

The vast majority of the farm workers we support are undocumented. They have always lived their lives with some fear but nothing like they are experiencing at present. Farm workers are scared to leave their homes, go out to buy food, or to walk their children to school. This is a climate of fear that they have always lived with but has been exacerbated by an uptick in hate speech and a person who seeks to have them deported following through on his threats.

Initially we received fewer school supplies than we did last year (until we put out a call letting you, our wonderful supporters, know), and when I was asked why I thought we received less, I realized that there are so many vulnerable communities being impacted right now, and those with a big heart are probably being spread thin.

Photo by In Her Image Photography

How much did we collect?

We collected 461 backpacks—92 more than last year! And again, thousands upon thousands of various supplies that we packed into those backpacks!

I want to thank the people who gave us cash donations so that we could purchase the supplies we were running out of to make sure that all of the kids had the same items in their backpacks. It is very important for us to make sure that the children all receive the same materials in each bag.

A big thank you to all of the other people involved who I didn’t specifically mention above:

Mariano Alvarez; Brooke Taylor Adkins; Jason Bayless; Valerie Belt; Patti Breitman; Jaya Bhumitra; Rebecca Coakley; Callie Coker; Katherine Connors; Fernando Cuenca; David Crosby; Nicole Dinato; Leticia Dominguez, Maria French, Esteban Garcia, Juan Garcia, Jes
ús Guzmán, Linda Harlow, Chef Barry Horton; Jennifer Jones Horton; Andrea Jacobson; Laura Knapp; Anika Lehde; Abbey Levine (mentioning again as she spent days in our office helping us count and organize the supplies); Kathy Loncarich; Cindy Machado; Audrey Marr; Bob Martinez; Cathy O’Brien; Cecilia Ossenbeck;  Jess, Jules and Chef Billy Page; Christa Paolucci; Dana Portnoy; Jan Prater; the Latino Employee Resource Group of PG&E; Mario Valadez;  pattrice jones; Stacie Shih; Sue Sullivan; Richard Tamez; Deborah Temple; Tatiana Tilley; Bianca Torres; Jocelyn and Meg York; and to our donors who supported this effort and all of our work!

A heartfelt thanks to all of you again for helping my vision become a reality. Your generosity constantly fills my heart with hope and gratitude.

The communities are now asking about this school supply drive, and so this is something we plan to continue to do as long as we are able.

A HUGE thanks to In Her Image Photography for donating their time and talent to capture the joy of the children getting their school supplies with both photos and video!
It also includes photos of the packing up of supplies.

F.E.P. encourages everyone to support corporate campaigns called by farm workers, such as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers Boycott Wendy’s campaign and the #BoycottDriscolls campaign called by the San Quentin workers in Mexico.