Wednesday, May 24, 2017

I didn’t feel like an ally

I have always felt weird about the term ally, mostly because I tend to see it during my quick glances at Instagram, where vegan white guys post images of themselves at Black Lives Matter protests or chest thumping in support of protests that turn “violent” (I am not a pacifist, so I put violence in quotes as my definition might be different than yours).

I find many of these types of posts done by white guys who basically seem as if they have to scream they are an ally but have made so many missteps in front of me – not only as a woman of color but even as a woman.

Ironically, this has primarily been my experience with white guys – saying random things about women and POC but falling short in person.

I explained this to a friend of mine, pattrice jones, and she explained to me that when my husband Mark and I got married in Massachusetts (we refused to get married in California due to Prop 8), we were acting as allies. Okay, that I got – sort of. I mean, I didn’t feel like I was doing this as an ally but more because it was right.

When something happened recently, it got me thinking again.

Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P.) had an event in San Francisco at a Latino cultural center. As with other events, we put signs up on the bathrooms (the one at the top of my blog) so that all would feel welcome. But people working at the center took issue with the signs and asked us to take them down.

The preparations for the event had already been stressful, but I knew that it would be difficult for me, as the founder of F.E.P., to have an event where people would not feel comfortable. This was not something I could accept, and as a Chicanx, I was a bit perplexed.

I asked to speak to the manager and was told they were not there. The woman who had told my event coordinator that the signs had to be removed said that the person in charge was not there. I asked if I could speak to her. She told me no, she had left for the day; she repeated that we were not allowed to put the signs on the bathrooms and said that they had already received complaints from pregnant women attending another event in the building who said they did not feel safe in the bathrooms because of the signs.

As we were discussing this, another employee called the person in charge and just handed me the phone.

I spent half an hour on the phone with this person explaining why it was imperative we have these signs up. When I mentioned that I felt it was discriminatory – a woman sweeping the floor in the front got very angry and said out loud – this is not discriminatory. I continued to try to explain to the person in charge that given how our people had been treated in the past (and even now), we should understand discrimination and should not be participating in it.

I offered a compromise for us to be able to put the signs up after their other events were over and take them off when our event was over. She then explained it would be hard for her staff, so I offered to go up personally and speak to each and every one of them (about 5). I offered to introduce them to any transgender people at our event and how it makes them feel for us to not have these signs up.

She was not interested.

In fact, she had told me that no other organization had ever asked for this to be done―we were the first.

Then I asked her to please put in writing why they felt this was unacceptable and email it to me so that I could share their concerns with the people of San Francisco.

That got her attention. At that point she was interested in my compromise.

I was incredibly upset and on the verge of tears when we hung up.

One of the employees came up and gave me a hug, thanked me, and told me they were so ashamed.

I admit, that there was one point during this argument that I thought she was going to ask us to leave and terminate the event. I was worried because I knew I would accept that versus not having these signs up. Right or wrong, I could only hope the supporters of F.E.P. would understand.

Never once did I feel like an ally. The entire time I just felt like I was doing what was right; I was fighting for everyone to feel safe and equal.

I know that I tend to be very skeptical, but my hope is that everyone who thumps their chests by posting images to show they are an “ally” is actually living their day-to-day lives in this manner and not just doing it for show.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Good Intentions

Awhile back, there was an animal group that I used to really love that used “Good intentions are not enough” as part of their messaging. It always stuck with me because of how true it is. Many times we do things with good intentions, but if we don’t follow through or aren’t very critical about how we do them, we might not be helping. In fact, we might be hurting

I write this not because I have any great solutions to offer, but because I think it is important for us to look more critically at how we view our actions – both individual and state actions – and how capitalism has negative impacts on even the best of intentions.

One of our advisory board members (thanks, Dave!) went to a book signing of Beverly Bell (a board member of TruthOut) who had just written Fault Lines: Views across Haiti’s Divide. He was kind enough to buy me a signed copy and told her about Food Empowerment Project’s work on food justice issues (so cool!).

As we all are busy, I have struggled to find time to read it (and I admit now I am just a chapter or two away from the end), but I could not help myself from commenting on it. Much of what she talks about in the book is so relevant to the type of principles we hold at Food Empowerment Project, such as allowing those who are the focus of a discussion to participate in meaningful decisions. “Not only is it right, but their lived experiences and wisdom are essential to creating a society that functions through equal opportunity, peace and rights,” she writes.

At F.E.P. we work to make sure that community voices are amplified as a solution to the lack of access to healthy foods. Those living in these communities are the ones who are impacted – they know the barriers and they will have ideas on solutions that will work (not policymakers influenced by corporations).

She even talks about language as being essential, and she explains why she uses the term “peasant” (even though Westerners consider it to have a negative connotation) and also the term “’U.S. American” (to differentiate from all other peoples of the Americas who are also Americans). My copy of her book is currently full of notes, and this one has a big star next to it as I was so excited!

I recently wrote a blog on language that discusses just how important it is and how much it can teach us by either connecting us or pulling us apart.

The portion of Bell’s book I found most interesting examines the impacts that foreign food aid had on Haiti after the earthquake of 2010.

I have been hearing about some of the things she mentions for a while, and this book really crystalized it for me.

So many times. we believe we are doing good (have the best of intentions), but the outcome is not the best since we are doing things that we (as individuals and coming from the West) think are important or necessary because we are looking at it from a perspective of who we are.

For example, the U.S. sent an enormous amount of food to Haiti after the earthquake, but they didn’t seem to reduce the amount as time passed, which negatively impacted those who were growing food there. Wouldn’t it make sense to also give money to the growers of the food to help rebuild their infrastructure and make it stronger so that they could grow their own food and be self-reliant? As Bell notes, “peasant organizations urge that foreign dollars go to procuring domestically grown emergency food aid.” Agrarian reform and food sovereignty are a big part of the solution. “For farmers and advocates of a justice-driven reconstruction, the first priority is food sovereignty. This is the belief that every people has the right to make decisions about, produce, and consume its own local, healthy, and culturally appropriate food.”

Maybe that is the catch – food is power, and perhaps the West wants that power over the people.

The West in general, and the U.S. in particular, seem to want to keep people in poverty instead of truly wanting to pull them out of it.

It brings to mind F.E.P.’s fight with a California agency regarding the negative impact they are having on the education of farm worker children. They require the farm workers to move at least 50 miles away from the migrant labor camps when the picking season is over, forcing them to pull their children out of school. They know they are doing this, and instead of immediately trying to remedy the situation, they put up bureaucratic barriers. As Dr. Ann Lopez of the Center for Farmworkers Families has stated, they are doing this in order to keep new farm workers coming in down the road – the current farm workers’ own children.

Another example of this is Tom’s Shoes’ One for One program, where you buy a pair of their shoes and they will send a pair to someone in need. Again, great intentions, but how does it impact the shoemaker in that country? There are a lot of articles on this issue.

Some projects can seem to be so great initially, but things aren’t necessarily as they seem.

And, well, maybe my lifelong suspicion of the U.S. federal government is at play here, but then look at their decision to dump peanuts on Haiti, which impacted farmers there – mostly women.

Charity work is big business and doesn’t always create a way to truly get people out of poverty because it seems to make people dependent instead of self-reliant. This is the old way of thinking, and for those of us who truly give a damn, we must speak out to challenge it.

As someone who has never had a lot of money, I always try to be careful how I use it. I try to decide if I am considering doing something because it makes me feel good versus doing something that actually can make a difference.

And if you are a supporter of F.E.P. and our mission, you know that sometimes doing the right thing takes research.

In her book, Bell urges us to “[A]ct with deliberation instead of acting as quickly as possible. Haitians say that anything that happens fast doesn’t last.” She encourages people to support grassroots organizations in Haiti, to use our voices here to call for reforms from the US government* and the UN in order to end these destructive policies, and to collaborate with advocacy groups – for fairer trade, policies, labor rights, women’s rights environmental health and food sovereignty.

I wrote this because of the great admiration I have for the people of Haiti. Haiti was the first independent nation of Latin America and the Caribbean – maybe the West still can’t get over the loss? Toussaint Louverture (a vegetarian) led a slave revolt in 1803, abolished slavery, and booted the French out. Did you catch that? Sixty-two years before the U.S. did.

One of my favorite books by Isabel Allende, Island Beneath the Sea, weaves in the history of Haiti and fiction, if you are interested.

And I am just going to close this with excerpts from the book – some seem so basic, yet why no one is listening is confusing to me:

The meals’ ingredients were all bought from Haitian farmers. Rose Anne said, “I would like to tell the international community that we can grow food.”

“People need to know that we can count on ourselves. We have the capacity. That’s what’s behind this initiative. We accept support that comes, but in the framework of respecting people’s dignity.”

The NGO industry has received most foreign aid since the earthquake. It has largely replicated the practice of foreign governments, excluding the Haitian state from decisions about its own nation. “The NGOs don’t tell us … where the money’s coming from or how they are spending it,” Prime Minister Bellerive said.

*If you have read my blogs before, you know that I am a big supporter of acting locally and in the community, so I am not sure what to say about the federal government – especially now, which I have hesitated blogging about.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

If I had only known…

This year will mark my 29th year of being vegan. I remember thinking more than a decade ago that in 10 years we should be able to put an end to people wearing fur and animals used for cosmetic testing in the US. It is so sad to me that we seemed to have slipped backward on both of these issues.

I don’t know about you, but I have often wondered that if there had been great protest against the first animal put in an aquarium, would aquariums still be around today?

I often struggle with, Am I doing enough? And I know I am not alone here; I know that many of us feel that way, whether it’s about non-human animals, human rights, or both.

But this gets me to why I am writing this blog.

I have thought to myself, If another non-human species were being prepped to be killed in a large-scale manner—being touted as a more environmentally friendly source of food—would I do all that I could to stop it?

The answer is yes.

Would I stop advocating for other animals to be eaten instead?

The answer is no.

Would I advocate for both?

The answer is yes.

Would I take every opportunity to advocate for this animal and to stop the industry before it starts?

The answer is yes.

Would I ever make this animal seem more important, more special, cuter, or smarter than the rest?

The answer is no.

Does this change my efforts to promote veganism?

The answer is no.

I raise this issue because the animal ag industry is trying to popularize the slaughter and consumption of yet another species in the US.


husband has often reminded me that these animals are used in nearly every form of exploitation—fur, testing, food, entertainment, hunting, etc.—which is why his heart goes out most to these gentle creatures.)

Unfortunately, for some reason beyond me, activists campaigning for bunnies is seen as a controversial issue.

And for the most part, advocating for these animals has been left to the bunny groups.  There are many of these organizations, and those groups that are vegan have managed to open the hearts and minds of many people who might otherwise not have considered the needs of animals other than rabbits or that they deserve our protection.

For those of us who are vegan and who have campaigned for bunnies, some of our detractors have accused us of not caring about or neglecting other animals.

(As for Food Empowerment Project, you can and see links to animals from fish to goats we advocate for: And we also organize protests every month in front of a chicken slaughterhouse.)

So we push for veganism, but I don’t see an issue with trying to stop an insidious animal agriculture industry in its tracks.

But maybe I am getting distracted. My point is this: we need to take the industry’s promotion of bunny meat seriously and stop it before it grows.*

How? If you hear of a restaurant or grocery store starting to sell bunny “meat”, speak out NOW. Don’t wait for anyone; you can talk to the manager and/or restaurant owner. If they aren’t budging, get others in your community to speak out—letters and phone calls make a big difference. You can contact groups such as SaveABunny and the House Rabbit Society for help.

We can do this. The power of the animal movement has always been you, individuals speaking up for justice and compassion.

I have had the privilege of spending time with bunnies, and even though we don’t hear them much, they have no trouble letting us know what they want (looking at you,

 Let’s do what we can to take a stand for all animals and against an industry that puts profits above everything else. As we seek to take all animals off the menu, let’s make sure one more is not added on.

Photo: By Tara Baxter of Emmeline, who was rescued from a bunny "meat" farm in Sonoma County, CA.

*Just think: If we took issues seriously and addressed them head on, would we be where we are now politically? Read: