Monday, February 10, 2014

Food Chain: Vegan Retention Newsletter


Food Empowerment Project
(F.E.P.) has completed Food Chain, our vegan retention newsletter. This blog is not to explain what Food Chain is or how you can sign up, as our website does those things (and lists some of our donors who went above and beyond to help us get it printed).

Instead, this is a celebration and explanation of Food Chain. As many of you know, F.E.P. is primarily an all-volunteer organization. Because of this, it took us about seven years to complete the series of 12 issues; however, it has been a project of love and hope.

Hope because we want to make sure that people who want to go vegan have the resources, tools, and support to help them stick with it. We lose too many people who have the passion when they first learn about what happens to animals who are raised and killed for food, and the hope is that we can keep them vegan. The more time in their lives they can spend being vegan, the more lives are saved. We want veganism to be positive as well as infectious.

Love because what we discuss are issues close to my heart, and as painful as they can be, they are issues that (for the most part) we can work to remedy, and injustices we can avoid contributing to.

The idea for Food Chain came from work I did in Texas. After I graduated from college at St. Edward’s University, I was hired to help some researchers on a project for the Texas Department of Health (the Governor at that time was Ann Richards). The project was to help prevent child abuse.

The concept is simple: babies do not come with instructions, and the more parents can learn about what to expect (development, what games to play, etc.), the less stressful it is for the parents. Also, parents (of all backgrounds, education, and income levels) might not have time to read books about raising children. So a newsletter called Building Blocks was created and sent to participants. Parents would receive one issue a month for a year (based on the age of the child) and then after the child was a year old, they would receive a newsletter every three months until the child was about three. Researchers would also go into the homes and do interviews with the parents to see how it was working. Issues included information on where the child’s development should be at certain ages (so if there was a concern, they could go to the doctor), as well as simple things such as how many children you should invite to the child’s birthday as they age. I remember receiving a letter from parents (each with a PhD) who loved receiving the newsletter, as they were very busy and it helped keep everything in check for them.

And well, that is what we are hoping to do with Food Chain. We want to give people a snapshot of information covering a variety of issues about going vegan, and collect data to determine what information is the most effective in helping them go and stay vegan. This will help shape how we craft future editions of Food Chain so we can constantly improve it (versus just printing materials and not gauging its effectiveness).

We have it in printed form, as not everyone has the privilege of regular or easy access to the internet. Students who might only have internet access at school or at the library can sign up online and have the newsletter mailed to them at home. We will also make it available for people who sign up at our events.

And lastly, the point of this blog is to thank the many, many, many individuals who made Food Chain possible.

My deepest appreciation for everyone who contributed to this one-of-a-kind effort.

Thanks to these individuals who donated countless hours of the time (years) and talents working on Food Chain: Valerie Belt (co-coordinator), Karen Emmerman, Katie Gillespie, Kate Goldhouse, Mark Hawthorne, and Niki Mazaroli.


Rescue Stories : VINE Sanctuary, United Poultry Concerns, for the Animals Sanctuary, Farm Sanctuary, and Animal Place.
Recipes: Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Fabiana Arrastia, Vegan Zombie, Carol Adams and Patti Breitman, Kate Goldhouse, Jake Conroy and Allison Rivers Samson.
Nutritional Experts: Jack Norris, RD, and Michael Greger, MD
Designers: Raven + Crow Studio
Researcher who created our survey: Carol Glasser.

And thanks to webmaster John Eckman for getting it all up.
Fundraising Video: Michelle Cehn & Pancakes

And all of those who wrote, edited, and contributed in various ways: Carol Adams, Lex Berko, Sarah Brown, Rick Chowdhry, Kat Connors, Sharon Daraphonhdeth, Karen Davis, Bob Esposito, Camilla Fox, Che Green, Josh Hooten, Laura Hudson, pattrice Jones, Rick Kelley, Jennifer Knapp, Nora Kramer, Linda LaMar, Emily Lobsinger, Mia MacDonald, Mercy For Animals, Sandra Miller, Nassim Nobari, Dana Portnoy, Sea Shepherd, Ellen Sweeny, Mat Thomas, Laura Toller-Gardner, Dave Vander Maas, Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, and Colleen Wysocki.

Donors who contributed outside of our fundraising effort: Chris Van Breen and VegFund.

Again, to get people to sign up for Food Chain, just head over to our website.

Friday, January 17, 2014

In Memoriam: Robin Romano

Food Empowerment Project lost a powerful ally in our fight—his wisdom and talents helped to shape our work and give a face to our campaigns. You have seen his work on our website.

I have a hard time accepting that Robin Romano is gone.

There is a lot to say about Robin’s work and who he was, but I feel it is important for our supporters to know who he is and what he meant to us.

When I first connected with Robin, I knew that he was one of the filmmakers for The Dark Side of Chocolate, but I didn’t know much more. After looking over our website, he happened to mention to me that his images—truly telling photographs—were on our site. 

He also mentioned that he was the filmmaker for the documentary film The Harvest/La Cosecha, which is about farm worker’s children, who have to work in the fields alongside their parents and siblings here in the US.

It was incredible and wonderful to find someone whose work and passion matched ours so well.

It was as if F.E.P. had a filmmaker and photographer who could capture the beauty and pain of child labor and made the case for why F.E.P.’s work is so important.

During this time, F.E.P. was also in the process of creating our chocolate list as well as dealing with Clif Bar. Robin was instrumental in helping us focus our chocolate list criteria. Given all that he had seen in West Africa, he was well aware of how prevalent the problem was there and that certifications did not matter. 

In fact, during one of these times, he had just gotten back from his work on Shady Chocolate, the sequel to The Dark Side of Chocolate, and his contribution to our effort was the image he took in West Africa of the two girls on a Rainforest Alliance field, which we use on our Clif Bar petition.

Robin would spend hours with me on the phone, telling me his ideas about possible solutions, problems with various groups, legislation, his hopes, and always being so willing to connect me with others.  

A number of times I would call him very upset because I felt like the jerk  in the room – speaking to people who grew organic food and letting them know that organic didn’t mean the workers were treated any better, or butting heads with organizations that were too close to various certifications. He told me that he was always “the asshole in the room” and now it was my turn. He let me know he would be there for me during these times – someone needed to speak the truth.

The last time I spoke with Robin was about my TEDx talk. He was interested in how I was going to tie in all of the issues (veganism, farm workers, and chocolate), and he gave me his consent to use his images. 

He was driving in upstate New York with farm worker advocates—who he promptly introduced me to and had them send me his most recent photos. He sounded like Robin, his mind going 100 miles an hour.  

I feel the epitome of who Robin is can be seen in Shady Chocolate. There is a scene where a young boy has cut his leg with a machete. You can hear Robin’s voice as the narrator explains that the photographer bandages the child up and has decided to take him to the doctor. That’s Robin. Robin wasn’t just a filmmaker who was there to capture images and tell a story. He wanted to change that story. He wanted to make things better; he wanted justice.

Most of the images that we use from Robin relate directly to our work. What I have included on this blog are some beautiful images that Robin sent to me of where he lived.  I wanted to show how Robin could not only capture some of the pain in this world, but the beauty.

He captured beauty and injustice with the same grace and dignity.

Robin, you are truly missed, and our world will never be the same without you. And the children have lost a great defender.

We are so thankful for all that you taught us, and we will continue to work to make you proud.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Bleating Hearts will touch your heart and leave you a stronger advocate for animals

You know how when you watch a movie or read a book that you want others to watch, you want to talk all about it? Well, that is what I am about to do. I have never written a book review before, but I had to tell everyone about Bleating Hearts by Mark Hawthorne* (author of Striking at the Roots:  A Practical Guide to Animal Activism).

As someone who has been working for more than 25 years on various animal issues — from hunting, to fur, to animals in marine parks, to circuses, etc. — and someone who, of course, spent a significant amount of my activist history working to help animals raised and killed for food and those used in experiments, I learned a lot from this book.

Bleating Hearts, covers many issues, including ones familiar to most activists as well as others that do not get a lot of exposure. But even for those issues you think you know a lot about, you might be surprised (and, yes, shocked) that you will learn even more.

Of course, that means it is a tough read. However, during the whole process Mark is with you and relates to your pain and what you are feeling. And, of course, if you have ever read Mark’s writing, you know what an incredible writer he is. Even some of the most horrible instances that he details are told with eloquence.

For me, his ability to say more eloquently what I feel like saying (and do it without profanity) is truly helpful. You have a warm blanket with you throughout the process, reminding you it is okay to feel outrage and sadness over the treatment of animals.

For activists like me, being left with resources on how you can get involved to help change things was both helpful and hopeful. 

Simple steps – not going to circuses that use animals, learning how to identify paint brushes that do not use animal hair, etc. – are part of the solution.

Another bonus about the book is that it includes the voices of many advocates working on these issues, just like Striking at the Roots. There is no single organization behind the book, so many voices from around the world, including those of grassroots activists, can be heard and learned from.

The book also contains information about many different animals; people who are possibly concerned about one issue are drawn in, and yet they will learn so much more.

It is hard to be an expert on every issue, but the fully referenced Bleating Hearts helps gives you the tools to know a bit more about all of them.

Okay, so let’s talk about what the book covers:

Chapter 1 deals with animals who are raised and killed for food.
Even though I work on issues of animals killed for food, what I learned can only help my advocacy.

When I talk about farmed salmon, it is second nature to make sure that people understand that salmon flesh was dyed. But how do these fish get that paint tint in the wild? It is a matter of what THEY eat.

You get to hear from Randall Arauz, a marine biologist in Costa Rica (winner of the Goldman Prize), about shark populations. 

There are some really painful pieces to read in the book, and for those Mark reminds us on Vegan Break that they are written in short sections, so do feel free to skip and/or save to read for later.

Chapter 2 deals with animals who are used for fashion.
It tackles more recent issues, such as the greenwashing that the fur industry is pushing and the myth of “ethical” ivory.
He gets us up to speed on these issues that we have heard about for decades and where they are now.

Chapter 3 is the one closest to my heart, as it is about animals used for experiments.

This chapter, like all of them, is well-researched and gives you a truly intimate, inside look at animals used in laboratories, while taking to task not only the ethical issues but the logic of animal experimentation. And sadly it shows us how far we still have to go when a test like the Lethal Dose-50 (LD-50) is still being used. 

This test was considered outdated when I first got involved in animal rights activism in the ‘80s, and the reality that the LD-50  is still in use should jolt us all into doing whatever we can to end it.
And learning that “[S]ome experts estimate that as much as 90 percent of the animals used for dissection are wild-caught” shows us why those in the conservation arena should be lockstep with us in opposing dissection.

Chapter 4 looks at the fate of wild-caught animals from bears to seahorses and groups working on these issues from Australia to the USA. Listed as a reference is our favorite Southern Cross Wildlife Care!

Chapter 5 covers animals used in sports, including rodeos, hunting, fishing, and racing (hares, horses, and dogs).

Although I felt like I knew the basics of animals used in sports, I learned more than I could have ever imagined. Mostly because my imagination couldn’t really prepare me to come up with some of these atrocities. 

Chapter 6 in some ways was one of the hardest for me to read. I have worked on issues of animals in entertainment and have always known my outrage is justified. But I was saddened and horrified to know there was more. I did not know, for example, what the captivity industry does to killer whales, including tearing them away from their families and from the wild…hold on to your heart, there is more. Sigh…

Toward the end of the book, we come to big areas that I knew very little about, such as animals used as sacrifices (detailed in Chapter 7). Not only does he fully inform us about the different religious practices involving animal sacrifice and the places around the globe where it continues to occur, but Mark also helps readers connect the issues across cultural and geographical lines. For example, he tellingly draws attention to how animals used in experiments are often referred to as “sacrifices” for the greater good as well.

Chapter 8 deals with issues of so-called artists’ uses of animals.

The chapter gives us names of artists to stay away from -- “[T]hose who feel they must destroy in order to create” — and those animal-friendly artists we should promote!

Chapter 9 starts with a powerful story of Nietzsche’s reaction to a horse being whipped. But it is not just Nietzsche who we learn was moved to action at such a scene, but also English abolitionist William Wilberforce.  This chapter deals with animals who are forced to work for humans, including donkeys, mules, elephants, dolphins, and sea lions. And we meet Thailand’s elephant defender Lek Chailert!

Probably one of the hardest chapters to get your head around is that of the sexual assault on animals in Chapter 10. Covering issues of bestiality and zoophilia, as well as the mistreatment of animals as a form of domestic battery, Mark addresses the subjects on an institutional level: “In many ways, the rape rack is the crucible on which all who consume meat or dairy products must weigh their collective conscience, the place where we must surely agree that society’s abuse of animals has exceeded any reasonable measure of sanity.”

In Chapter 11, we see Mark turn to others to find out their thoughts, including well-known writers such as Carol Adams and Richard Ryder, who coined the term “speciesism.”

The book is written as if you are learning from a reporter giving you facts, figures, and some history so you understand the issues. But the bonus is that he understands your heart and that it is impossible to read some of it without grieving. And he understands you must be thinking to yourself, “What can I do to change things?” He gives you tips how.

If you want to be an informed and powerful advocate for the animals, then read this book!

*Full disclosure: Mark Hawthorne (Twitter @markhawthorne) is my husband, though I am not writing this as his partner, but more as an activist for the animals since 1987. If I were writing it as his partner, the blog would be about how he took five years to write this book alongside his full-time job while still volunteering for other animal causes. And, well, what it is like to watch a thoughtful, gentle, sensitive soul read, research, watch and write about all of these atrocities and then write a book to inform others. Just like investigators who go behind closed of labs and factory farms, he did it to inform people and create change.

Monday, November 11, 2013

No more Luv for Southwest Airlines: Whales are not free to move about in the oceans

Being a Native Texan, I grew up with Southwest Airlines and have always felt a sense of pride about an airline that tried to keep their rates low so everyone could fly and yet not sacrifice their very Texas-friendly service.

Unfortunately, my luv for Southwest Airlines is no more.

Until Southwest cuts its association with SeaWorld, I am cutting my credit card and will knowingly lose my miles, as I am a frequent flyer.*

But that is a very small price to pay for all of the animals who SeaWorld holds captive in their parks.

In their November 5, 2013, response to my email, they stated: “We have a longstanding relationship with SeaWorld that is based on travel and bringing families together.”

Hmm…anyone else see the huge irony in that statement?

1. Whales, dolphins, sharks and pretty much all of the animals held captive by SeaWorld would normally have the freedom to travel amid vast oceans—orcas, for example, may swim 100 miles in a single day. And yet, at SeaWorld, they are living in tanks, restricted to swimming in tiny circles.

2. Bringing families together? One of the most heartbreaking things about how we treat animals is the disconnect we have about their families and what they mean to them. One of the most powerful scenes in the documentary Blackfish is when the young orcas are taken from their pods by the captive industry, and the mothers are crying, screaming -- whatever you want to call it -- calling as loudly as they could for their babies, whom they believed could hear them underwater, not realizing that they were being flown somewhere else.

Southwest Airlines, here’s a new idea: why not take a stand for families by ending your relationship with SeaWorld?

For now, I will only use my Sea Shepherd credit card.

*See my blog: