Thursday, September 13, 2018

Giving back just a little to help right an injustice (Update on Food Empowerment Project School Supply Drive 2018)

Delivery in Watsonville. Photo by Souledad Productions.

As a vegan organization, Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P.) encourages people who have access to healthy food to go vegan so as to not contribute to the suffering and death of non-human animals. In doing so, we are encouraging people to eat more fruits and vegetables. Therefore, we need to acknowledge the injustices farm workers face and ensure that those who pick our food are treated with the dignity and respect all workers deserve, especially since neither the laws nor the corporations are protecting them.

In addition to the work we do to support legislation, regulatory changes, and corporate campaigns called by farm workers, F.E.P. has tried to come up with creative ideas to do more. We started our school supply drive for the children of farm workers to help them reach their potential and give them a great start to the school year, which helps ease the burden on their families. We do not see this as an act of charity but as a way to help right an injustice.

California farm workers pick fruits and vegetables that are sold all over the country—even the world—but these workers are victims of some of the worst abuse that capitalism and racism have to offer.

However, this is meant to be an inspiring blog about all that we did together, along with lots of thank yous! There are links, so you can read more about why it is so important to do all we can to make sure that farm workers are seen and protected and that we advocate for their rights.

Now it’s time to thank all of YOU!

There are so many people who make this event powerful and meaningful, and it is always important for me to do my best to recognize everyone!

The farm workers and organizations
First and foremost, thanks to the farm worker organizations that got back to us to accept the school supplies we collected and packed. As in the past, we were able to work with Dr. Ann Lopez with Center for Farmworker Families (CFF), Mariano Alvarez with Movimiento Cultural de la Union Indigena, and this year with Lizbeth Valdez with United Farm Workers.

Drop-off locations
Thanks to all of the drop-off locations that agreed early in the year to do this and then went on to promote and gather the school supplies, and also to Sandra and Joel Gluck and Billy Lovci for coordinating.

We could not do this without the generosity of the following locations donating space and for their strong belief in this effort: Center for Employment Training (San José),
City of San José Assemblymember Ash Kalra for his support and Stacy Shih in his office for securing and overseeing two locations in San José, Dailey Method (Berkeley), Grant Lake Theatre (Oakland), Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Santa Rosa (Glazer Center), Marin Humane, Stanford Prevention Research Center, and to Sanctuary Bistro that offered a 10% discount to those who brought school supplies to their restaurant.

Mario Valadez with the
Latino Employee Resource Group of PG&E served as a drop-off location for their offices for a month! Thanks to them and to the Marin Sangha for collecting donations as well.

Bonus from our supporters outside of the Bay Area
The bulk of the supplies we received came from those of you who had them shipped directly to our office. We had people send supplies from all over the US and even from Canada and England!! This was an incredible gift to receive.

Donations for School Supply Drive
Thanks to the people who gave us cash donations so that we could purchase the supplies we were running low on to make sure that all of the kids had the same items in their backpacks. It is very important for us to ensure that the children all receive the same materials in each bag.

Also, as this event has grown, the cost to F.E.P. has grown as well, so these donations go a long way to help us with this important work.

Movimiento Cultural de la Union Indigena Delivery
Picking up and packing!
A huge thanks to Billy Lovci and Sandra and Joel for helping us with picking up the school supplies! That might sound easy, but schedules have to be coordinated, and sometimes not all of the supplies will fit in our cars (yay!), so multiple trips are necessary!

Another huge thanks to the volunteers who helped to pack up the school supplies! This  takes a lot of time, work, energy and brain power! A big thank you to Miyoko’s for donating some delicious cheese and cream cheese to help fill our volunteer’s stomachs and to Shelly Welch for making some delicious food and desserts for us too! Thanks too to our office space that graciously donated an empty warehouse so we could pack. The crew who worked in our Petaluma office on a Saturday packing were: Abbey Levine; Jasmine and Billy Lovci; Brian Welch; Mark Hawthorne; Sandra, Joel, and Cara Gluck; and our own Erika Galera! A huge thanks to Brian’s partner Shelly for making some delicious treats! Our Sunday crew Abbey, Orlando, and Linda Olivia also deserve big kudos!

The next Saturday, we were back at it! Thanks to Jennifer Knapp and Jeffrey May (and Bootsie) for opening their home and for their help, along with Isabella and Peter Cnudde (and Lallie), Corinna Dixon, Cristina Stella, Mark Hawthorne, Stefanie Wilson, and Erika Galera.


Our first delivery was part of our continued work with CFF and its founder Dr. Ann Lopez, whose relationship with these farm workers is one of trust; this is how my idea for the school supply drive got started.

When we arrived, there were already farm workers and their children waiting for us. As you can see from the videos, dozens were already in line, and as the day went on, the line grew longer. But we had enough for everyone!
It was wonderful to see familiar faces and all the excitement at picking the right backpack, from the younger kids choosing from the character backpacks, all the way up to the backpacks being chosen by the older kids. What struck me this year, more than ever before, was how many of the siblings looked after each other. The older kids would make sure their little sister or brother had exactly what they wanted before they looked for one themselves.

Thanks to Erika Galera, George Lin, Jennifer Knapp, Mark Hawthorne, Sharon Daraphonhdeth for all of their help with the delivery.

And a big hug and thank you to Laura Knapp for providing us (as she has every year) with an incredibly delicious meal, cool drinks, and the most amazing desserts after our delivery! We are so grateful to you!

During the following week, Mariano Merino picked up school supplies for Movimiento Cultural de la Union Indigena in Windsor, and farm workers with the United Farm Workers picked up supplies for the farm workers in Santa Rosa as well as the Central Valley. 

UFW Delivery.

We collected 568 backpacks this year -- over a hundred more than last year!!

A big thank you to all of the other people involved who I didn’t specifically mention above:
Valerie Belt, Joyce Tischler, Meghan Lowery, Oliver Mazner, Karen Emmerman, Leticia Dominguez, Katherine Connors, Cindy Machado, Kerry Corcoran, Patti Breitman, Jennifer Jones Horton, Linda Harlow, the Tamez family, Jan Prater, Audrey Marr, Barbara Clark, Priscilla Sandoval, Black Vegan Feminist, Hiddema, Elizabeth, Meg, Jocelyn and Ida York, Valerie Giguere, Callie Coker and Nichole Dinato from Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack!, Rebecca Robison, Julie Soloman, Charlotte & Jeremy Levin, Andrea Danowski, Krista Scotney Young, Chris Jones Ofra, Lisa Millspaugh, Debbie, Celia, Claire, Janet, Karen, Derrick, Tiffany Hogan, Audrey, Viridiana de Leon, Lisa Ifatani, Brittany Dunbar, Brooke A., Lucia Kasulis, Valerie Spektor, Food Empowercats, and all of the F.E.P. supporters, volunteers, and donors who supported this effort and all of our work.

This year we collected more backpacks than we did school supplies to properly and equitably fill them, so we will be working to figure out a solution. A very big thank you to those donors who stretched themselves to ensure that we had school supplies in every backpack.

We hope you enjoy the beautiful video and photos courtesy of the great amazing crew at Souledad Photography! We very much appreciate Richard Sanchez and Miguel Kultura for donating their time and talent to capture the joy of the children getting their school supplies with both photos and video!

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.

The farm workers are now even calling to ask about this event and want to know when the deliveries will take place. This truly does help these families.

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.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Help end animal cruelty one glass at a time

As June is the start of National Dairy Month, initially conceived by the International Dairy Foods Association in 1937 to promote drinking milk, I want to try to dissect the dreaded dairy industry from the times of colonization to today by looking at the vast amount of cruelty that takes place day in and day out, harming human and non-humans alike.

Food Empowerment Project’s newest effort, Eliminate animal suffering, one glass at a time, strives to address these issues for all to understand.


As a very proud Xicanx, I will start where it began for my indigenous ancestors. Simply put, Columbus’ second voyage brought cows, goats, and other animals to our lands, as he thought our foods were inferior. (You can learn more here:


Just like humans, mother cows are pregnant for nine months, and just like human mothers, they produce milk for their babies. It may seem surprising to some, but, yes, cows’ milk is really for their babies — newborn calves. Mom and baby, who want to be together, are separated so that humans can drink their milk (or eat it via cheese, yogurt, etc.). When you really think about, it just seems so strange how common a practice this is today. And nearly every farm, large or small, takes the babies away from their moms.

I have investigated many dairy farms, and what I witnessed broke my heart. While the animal movement was talking about “veal” calves (the male calves who are of no use in the dairy industry, as they do not produce milk), it was the female calves in crates I saw by the hundreds in California. I videotaped calves in the hot sun of the Central Valley who were chained by the neck, others who had kicked their water over and had died from exposure. In Georgia, I videotaped a baby crying to her mama. You could hear them painfully bellowing back and forth.

Their pain is real; it’s as simple as that.

Then, when the cows aren’t producing enough milk to be profitable, they are sent off to be killed.

Dairy dooms environment and workers

As an organization that recognizes how so many issues of oppression are connected, it is not shocking to us that the dairy industry’s despicable reach goes even further.

Environmental impact & environmental racism

A single cow in the dairy industry produces 120 pounds of wet manure per day, so a farm with an average of 200 cows produces 24,000 pounds of manure a day! It is important to remember that there is no waste treatment plant for these farms — big or small.  Many farms will put the wet manure in what are called manure pits (or so-called “manure lagoons”), and as you can imagine, there are no words to do the stench they emit justice. In fact, here in Sonoma County, home to numerous large dairies, the odor gets so bad that there are days when we all go inside to hide from the “Sonoma Aroma.”

Approximately 91 percent of the cows used in California’s dairy industry and more than 80 percent of dairies in the state are in the Central Valley (, which is made up of predominately Latinx communities. As of 2012, one in six children living in the San Joaquin Valley had asthma, and according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Fresno County is the most challenging place to live in California for those who suffer with asthma. “Dairy farm waste, soil blown from farmlands, pesticides, industrial emissions, vehicle exhaust and dust particles kicked up by cars…have made this one of the smoggiest places in the nation,” reports Discover magazine. It is therefore not surprising that these factory farms are located in the vicinity of a large number of communities of color living in poverty. According to a recent report by the Central Policy Health Institute: “In 2005, seven of the eight San Joaquin Valley counties had a higher percentage of Latino residents than the state as a whole (35.9%).” The report adds that the San Joaquin Valley is “one of the least affluent areas of California…and poverty, in both urban and rural areas, is a significant problem.” (from:


The dairy industry’s disgusting disregard for non-human animals extends to human animals as well. Half of all workers on U.S. dairy farms are immigrants ( who are forced to work long hours. Those who have homes live in overcrowded conditions, and many are vulnerable to workplace deaths, such as being electrocuted, crushed by tractors, kicked by a cow, or being injured by an agitated “bull.”

Got lactose normal?

That’s okay — you are completely fine! It makes sense to me that you don’t digest cows’ milk! But, alas, as many POC don’t digest the milk of another species, some would have us believe there is something wrong with us — but there isn’t!

Drinking animal milk comes with cholesterol and colonization!

Drinking planted-based milk, such as coconut milk, is nothing new. It is what Pacific Islanders have always done.

Plus, milks that don’t have to be refrigerated have a longer shelf life!

All of this makes the dairy industry even more insidious when you consider how they target communities of color. I was horrified when I saw the dairy industry using La Llorona, a Latinx legend about a woman who killed her children, to
sell milk to our communities. According to the Los Angeles Times, they spent $2 million in advertising.

The dairy trade, which hides behind the beautiful big brown eyes of cows and fake health claims, exposes itself for the corrupt industry they are — selling their product at the expense of human and non-human animals, the environment, and workers — peddling it to people of color, who they know will get sick from it.

And there’s also the more deceitful sides of dairy, such as the role colonization has played in how the dairy industry seeks to target people of color.

For all of these reasons and more, let’s gently remind people of the reality of the dreaded dairy industry and encourage them to help end the suffering, one glass at a time. And, if they have access to healthy foods, let’s encourage them to go