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Sunday, January 24, 2016

What does sustainable mean?

Alive and well: the only truly natural state for chickens

Sustainability means different things to different people and different organizations. For Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P.), the word is in the first sentence of our mission statement: Food Empowerment Project seeks to create a more just and sustainable world by recognizing the power of one’s food choices. 

Recently, I was invited to a small planning meeting for an upcoming conference on sustainability. When there was talk about having a company participate that had done some work related to environmental sustainability, but was not great when it comes to human rights abuses, I had to ask, what was their definition of sustainable?

So when they asked me for my input on food issues, I had to tell them that my definition of sustainable was probably different than theirs.

To me, how is any system sustainable when it involves the suffering or exploitation of any being.

Animal consumption is clearly not sustainable for the planet when you look at the environmental impacts of just the waste and the water usage. And then look at the impacts of this waste on communities of color who live near these facilities. Living with the smells, dealing with the health impacts, etc., is not sustainable for them.

And how is it sustainable to the animal for them to be killed? Clearly it is not sustainable for them at all. The idea that animal consumption is sustainable is like seeing the word “natural” in relation to dead chickens being sold in a supermarket. Chickens are naturally alive and walking around.

Given the 100% turnover rate of slaughterhouse workers, surely that cannot be considered sustainable. Who can continue to kill other sentient beings every day, and why should anyone else expect someone to do this? Psychologically the toll is great, as are the impacts on their bodies and the injuries they face. It is not sustainable.

And how sustainable is produce for the farm workers? They deal with low wages, wage theft, horrible working and living conditions, the women face sexual harassment, and they are exposed to agricultural chemicals.

It is not sustainable to treat farm workers like this by exposing them and the planet to chemicals.

Nor is it sustainable for children to be working in the fields because their families (who are also working) are too poor to send them to school.

Is it sustainable that portions of our population do not have access to healthy foods that are necessary for them to be healthy themselves?

Is it sustainable to not pay workers living wages?

So far I have used the word “sustainable” more than a dozen times in this blog, so I think you get my point. I have been asked to give a talk to some students about sustainability and I am looking forward to what they think of my definition.

The word “sustainable” has no boundaries and neither should we when we talk about what it means and what we need to work on to achieve a truly sustainable world. 

Photo courtesy of VINE Sanctuary. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Why every vegan should support living wage efforts

Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P.) is an organization based on ethics – we promote veganism because we do not want animals to have to suffer and/or die for human consumption, for entertainment, for cosmetics, etc. 

We advocate for the rights of farm workers because every worker should be treated with dignity and respect, be paid a living wage, and have safe working conditions. We also do this because, as vegans, we need to be reminded that our food is also tainted with suffering until these rights are attained.

Additionally, we work on the lack of access to healthy foods in communities of color and low-income communities because it is a grave injustice that eating healthy foods ends up being a privilege and not a right. And that doesn’t even take into consideration that everyone should also be able to eat with their ethics too! You can really see a connection to the colonial dimension of eating here.  

And, as a vegan organization, we know that if we want people to go vegan, we have to do more than just encourage them to do so. We need to help make it possible for them to actually do it.

Currently, not everyone has the ability to go vegan (regardless of how many times you hear going vegan is easy). It is not that easy, especially for those who cannot afford it and/or do not have access to healthy foods (even just basic fruits and vegetables).

No matter how many vegans do stunts to eat vegan on less to prove you don’t need a lot of money to go vegan – these do not work and they do not help. Vegans need to also understand what it is like to have their wages be inconsistent, to not have access to healthy foods nearby, to not have a kitchen or a car, to not be able to carry more than two bags of groceries on the bus, or to have to work 2-3 jobs (and I don’t mean office jobs, I mean jobs where someone is on their feet all day). Sure, some people do live on limited budgets, but many people do not have budgets at all.

In our work surveying impacted communities in San José, we found that one of the biggest barriers for people to access fresh fruits and vegetables was the cost. We also found that this is a real and pressing concern for parents providing for children who have decided to avoid animal products: we had three focus groups, and in two of them, parents actually had children who were vegan or vegetarian.

That is when we at F.E.P. decided we needed to do more to push for living wages for everyone. We feel that everyone should be supporting this, but it’s especially important for those who want others to go vegan to support these efforts.

Living wage campaigns are taking place in various sectors on both the city and county levels (we have been working to help push one in Sonoma County). The Fight for $15 campaign, for example, is a nationwide movement agitating for a minimum wage of $15 an hour for workers in places such as Wal-Mart, restaurants, and fast food chains (you can read my blog about when I worked fast food as a vegan teenager).

And when looking at service workers, many are people of color.

According to a new report by the Haas Institute (the US Farm Bill):
Communities of color frequently overrepresented in lowest-paying jobs. In 2012, 26% of Blacks and 26% of Latinos were employed in service—a notoriously low-paying industry—while only 17% of whites and 18% of Asian Americans were employed in service.

Again, for me, I want to take up this fight for workers because it is what is right; however, I call upon other vegan organizations and individuals to join us in this call if you truly want people to go vegan. It takes more than just asking people to go vegan for something like this to be possible.

How can you do this? Sign up for alerts from groups such as the Jobs With Justice, Food Chain Workers Alliance, and Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. Keep in mind that these are not vegan groups, so it is important to carefully read any petitions before signing to make sure you agree with them, but it is easy enough to post an upcoming event or call to action on social media.

Just lend your voices and those of your supporters to equal justice for all.

We all need to be part of a holistic movement that demands respect and equality for human and non-human animals to live free of suffering, harm, and exploitation.

Who’s with me?