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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Touro University honors F.E.P. community organizer: Acceptance speech given by Maria Guevara

Acceptance speech of Maria Guevara, Food Empowerment Project's Vallejo Community organizer receiving a Hero Award


Thank you Touro University for choosing Vallejo to serve, to lead and to teach. You have served our community in so many ways and we are forever grateful.

Thank you Alicia, Gayle, Brigida and Touro’s Public Health Program for this beautiful award.

In researching this award, it was delightful to learn that it was established in conjunction with the Day of Compassion.
Wow, A Day of Compassion.

As I googled it, there were many things that came up about this day which is celebrated by many people all over the world.  Some celebrate it by honoring veganism and the promise not to eat animals, others by sponsoring a child in other countries and some would ask their congregation to spend a day volunteering to serving those in need.

Time dedicated to a response to the suffering of others is a familiar to me as I have seen time and time again, in this compassionate town of Vallejo - so many caring individuals, performing so many selfless acts of love-
going out of their way to help the physical, spiritual, or emotional hurts or pains of others.

Vallejo Together an eternal volunteer organization was established in 2010 to build 6 areas of community - business, culture, education, faith, government and safety.  Having over 400 residents attend our first meeting, we continue to be, more than 6 years later, excited about serving our community.  We are grateful to work hand in hand with agencies, entities, government, organizations and individuals to usher in humane policies and break barriers for all those in need.

We are privileged to have so many heroes that work alongside us, which we are so glad to have as our guests here today.  Heroes like Lauren Ornelas, founder of Food Empowerment Project who came to study Vallejo’s food desert and is demanding change in the way Vallejoans are given access to healthy food.  Or Lisa Gutierrez Wilson, co founder of the Vallejo Peace Project who encourages youth to take a pledge to be peacemakers in their schools. Veronica Vega, a public health nurse who happily delivers food and clothing to refugees seeking safety. Supervisor Erin Hannigan who stopped 7 mothers and 11 children from being evicted from their housing. Divine Mercy Prayer Group who gathers together once a month from many cities in the North Bay to prepare food and deliver to 100 senior citizens and friends in need. Community Life Integration Foundation’s Sonya and Nyesha Russell who works hard day and night to fund a building they occupied in faith. And Julie Brand, who owns A Wise Retreat, a 24/7 substance abuse treatment home for women.

We know that we cannot do it alone.

Together, we can.

Often times, the public health issue of those we serve is not physical but internal.  It is mental and spiritual. More than empty stomachs, our friends have their hearts emptied, clutching to the little amount of hope they have because they have suffered and continue to suffer so many disappointments in their lives.  All they have left, and sometimes barely, is their will to survive.

Working with our friends in need have taught us that if we really wanted to help, we had to act FAST and act NOW.  We had to put aside every barrier and help them as soon as possible. And even if they weren’t ready yet, we had to be prepared when we get that call.

We did not knock on doors, we created our own pathways.  

We did not to wait on things to happen - we made things happen.  

We did not wait for someone else to do it, because WE were the ones who our friends had been waiting for.

And they needed us right now.

Our efforts were always two pronged. Helping now with immediate needs, but always working towards a vision of solution of a more permanent structure, a foundation of solid services that will be available for those in need in the future and will outlast us when we are no longer here.

One of Vallejo Peace Project’s founder Lisa Gutierrez Wilson’s favorite quote is “Complacency Kills” And it truly does.  Every moment spent allowing another to suffer is a moment lost to show compassion and love.

And we don’t have to do BIG things - let’s start with a smile, first at ourselves, knowing that our little light can shine wonders in others once we allow it to be free. Next, let’s look at what we want and can do to help and then little by little, just do it.

On behalf of all us present here today, Vallejo Together, our partners and friends accept this award and dedicate it to all the heroes present here in this room, and all those in the community who display the courage to be compassionate. Thank you for going the distance for those who can no longer take the next step.

Thank you for being you.

So remember…

In a world of suffering, be compassionate.

Together, We Can

Monday, April 4, 2016

What exactly is “mainstream” about injustice?

Guest post by Anika Lehde, volunteer coordinator for the newly established Washington chapter of Food Empowerment Project.

I’m thrilled to be working on the issues that Food Empowerment Project addresses here in Washington State—from educating the public on issues with cocoa farmed in West Africa to supporting the Driscoll’s/Sakuma berry boycott in solidarity with Familias Unidas por la Justicia. But I have to share a story that illustrates the barriers that Food Empowerment Project has faced since its founding in 2006.

As a burgeoning chapter, one of our first tasks is to get the word out about Food Empowerment Project, helping folks expand their circle of compassion to human animals and non-human animals, which means tabling at our local Seattle VegFest. This event is ideal because we would be able to reach thousands of vegans and vegetarians with information about farm worker rights, child labor in the chocolate industry, etc., and also help the hundreds of omnivores who attend embrace veganism and animal liberation without dismissing human needs. There is no better event for us to table.

Which is why I was crushed when I was told via email that the event was full and we wouldn’t be able to rent table space. I was also extremely surprised, since I had contacted them more than a month before the event and, having attended many times, I knew that there were often empty tables near the other non-profits. I wrote them back, pleading: “Isn't there anything that can be done? Anyone cancelling? A wait list? Any spare tables in the back?” I didn’t want our new chapter to be left out of this community event and asked them if they could help in finding of any other way we could be involved. But I never received a response. Crickets, as they say.

Then, thankfully, a friend of Food Empowerment Project found a group that would be willing to share their table with us, since they were light on literature and thought having another group sharing the space might draw more people to the table in general. Problem solved! Hurray! Right?

Alas, when this arrangement was discussed with the organizers, they admitted to our friend that they didn’t want Food Empowerment Project at Seattle VegFest because we cover issues that are “out of scope” of the event. That’s right: a vegan food justice organization is not welcome at Seattle VegFest because we care about a multitude of related food justice issues. Mind you, this event lets Safeway and QFC table (last year handing out flavored bottled water), though these companies openly make millions from the exploitation of non-human animals. That’s right: corporations are “in” and Food Empowerment Project is “out.” To say we were frustrated would be an understatement. 

This is a pattern for Vegetarians of Washington, the organizers of VegFest, who claim that they don’t want anything to detract from the mainstreaming of veganism. They actually don’t use the word “vegan,” even though their monthly dinners are vegan and many of the organizers are ethical vegans. How can we get our friends to embrace veganism for ethical reasons if even vegans are too worried about using the word? They believe that they are making veganism more palatable for Seattle citizens. Here is where I think they are sending the wrong messages to their enthusiastic audience.

If we continue to pretend that our fellow humans don’t care about one another and pretend that we should only focus on our own health and never mind the impact of our choices, we are disrespecting our fellow citizens. VegFest organizers think that they are making veganism easier and more mainstream, but they are actually making it harder for those in Seattle who care about wider justice issues. They are making veganism seem single-issue, personal-interest, and out-of-touch. In Seattle, food justice, anti-racism, labor rights, and environmental justice are all issues taken up by significantly more people than veganism or animal rights. VegFest organizers are turning their backs on the very people that vegetarian groups should be reaching out to – they are making veganism less palatable for Seattle.

I know that Seattle cares about justice, and I know that Seattle vegans see beyond the pallid version of veganism that VegFest offers. So to ensure that my fellow rad Seattle citizens get a better experience, we will be bringing lauren Ornelas to Seattle herself, for a completely free event, that will include a great talk, amazing food, and a version of justice that meets the needs of our future world. If you’d like to be invited, please follow the newly created Food Empowerment Project WA Chapter Facebook Page or email me at veganscore {at} live.{com}.

Lastly, I am not saying that folks should avoid Seattle VegFest, but if you want to see them expand their concept of mainstream veganism beyond consumerism, be sure to give them feedback via email or social media. Then maybe next year we’ll see you there!