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:

Thursday, December 8, 2016

¡Qué Vergüenza Safeway!

FEP ha estudiado el acceso a comida saludable en comunidades de color y de bajos recursos en dos áreas: el condado de Santa Clara, CA y en Vallejo, CA

FEP en enfocó en el condado de Santa Clara porque es donde estábamos ubicados en ese entonces. Yo vivía y trabajaba en el centro de San José, donde habían licoreras una a través de la calle de la otra.

Luego de hacer un seguimiento en el condado de Santa Clara, se encontró que la comunidad más afectada en el condado es San José. Allí condujimos grupos de enfoque para aprender a través de miembros de la comunidad cuáles son las barreras más grandes y qué se necesita para mejorar esta situación.

Ya que sólo trabajamos en comunidades donde hemos sido invitados, fue la solicitud de David Hilliard (uno de los fundadores del partido de las Panteras Negras) la que nos llevó a trabajar en Vallejo. Trabajamos en conjunto con Vallejo People’s Garden, un huerto comunitario que cuenta con voluntarios y organizaciones asociadas en todo Vallejo. Cuando comenzamos nuestro trabajo en Vallejo, no teníamos idea que uno de los factores contribuyentes a la falta de comida saludable iba a ser un supermercado en sí: Safeway.

En una reunión pública, Erin Hannigan del consejo de supervisores de Vallejo, nos informó que Safeway había colocado una restricción en el título de una propiedad que les había pertenecido en el pasado. Este título previene que cualquier otro supermercado use la propiedad para el mismo propósito. Los efectos de este hecho, que dejó al vecindario y sus áreas adyacentes sin un supermercado, son resaltados en la página 15 de nuestro reporte sobre Vallejo publicado recientemente.

Algo para tener en cuenta: No estoy hablando del impacto de un supermercado cerrando una locación y abriendo un par de cuadras más lejos. Estoy hablando sobre el supermercado dejando áreas sin ningún acceso a otro supermercado cuando se mueven a millas de distancia.

No es necesario decirlo, pero estaba absolutamente disgustada e indignada al ver que Safeway tenga la audacia de crear estas restricciones y que arriesguen la salud de las comunidades (incluyendo comunidades de color y unas de las más vulnerables: los discapacitados y las personas de la tercera edad). Pero también sabía que Vallejo no debe ser la única comunidad impactada por este tipo de avaricia.

Enlistamos la ayuda de la Dra. Carol Glasser (quien lideró la investigación de nuestro reporte) y uno de sus estudiantes, Joseph Tope Sanni, y descubrimos que algo similar había ocurrido en Washington, DC. Contacté a un miembro del Consejo de la ciudad en DC, quien trabajó para pasar una resolución que previene que esto continúe en Febrero del 2015.

El 27 de Mayo del 2015 le envié un carta al CEO de Safeway (cuyo dueño es Alberton’s) instando a Safeway a que pasara una norma para terminar con ésta práctica. En Julio 6, 2015, recibimos una respuesta insatisfactoria de su Vicepresidente de asuntos públicos. Continuamos la discusión con su Vicepresidente hasta Febrero de este año, cuando por fin nos dimos cuenta que no íbamos a poder hacer que cambien sus normas.

Entonces, hemos decidido traer esta desgracia a la luz.

Queremos que esta práctica dañina de restringir los títulos de propiedades que eran supermercados que no permiten que otros supermercados abran en la misma locación pare por completo. ¡Todos los vecindarios merecen el derecho de acceder a comida fresca!

Hemos consultado con abogados sobre la legalidad de estos títulos, y sabemos que aunque es posible que sean legales, es algo inmoral.

Existen numerosas barreras para que una persona pueda acceder a comida saludable – incluyendo el costo- porque desafortunadamente, muchas personas no reciben salarios que cubren sus necesidades y otros no tienen el tiempo o el dinero. Pero no deberían existir barreras creadas por las mismas corporaciones que deberían estar proveyendo el acceso a comida saludable.

Detener esta práctica puede ayudar a comunidades a acceder a comida saludable a través de los EE.UU. Como mínimo, los supermercados no deberían interponerse a este acceso. ¡Ayúdanos a corregir esta injusticia!

Por favor únete a nosotros demandando exigiendo a Safeway/Albertsons que elimine los títulos restringidos en sus antiguas propiedades que previenen que otros supermercados los reemplacen

*  Vale la pena anotar que FEP no está implicando que los supermercados son la solución a los problemas que enfrentan muchas comunidades, y tampoco implica que vayan a crear una solución; sin embargo esto es claramente una barrera masiva. FEP prefiere abogar por que la gente cultive su propia comida, o supermercados que sean propiedad comunitaria (cooperativas) y soluciones que tengan en cuenta los aportes de la comunidad y tenga su apoyo.

Monday, November 14, 2016


Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P.) acknowledges that actions are more important than words; however, language is incredibly important.

In fact, we have guidelines for writing for F.E.P. that describe what words we do and do not use. One example is that non-human animals are never “it.” Non-human animals are sentient beings and should not be referred to as inanimate objects. We also seek not to identify animals based on the oppressive system they are in – not “circus animals” but animals in circuses.

We are also careful with other issues, such as not using the word “American” unless we are referring to all of the Americas (America is NOT just the United States).

But we are always learning and adding more to our repertoire (lactose normal instead of lactose intolerant – thanks, Mark; Latinx instead of Latino/a – thanks, Anika).

Recently, I traveled outside of the US and spent some time in a country where English was not the primary language, and I started to notice how my personality changed. I am the type of person who says thank you often and wants to talk with service workers and people in general. And, well, even when I tried to say something to the one person I saw wearing fur, I realized they could not understand what I was saying.

I was not only in a different country, I was different. I felt a bit hindered, not like myself. Even though I was with my husband and I could talk to him, I was quiet when he wasn’t there and we weren’t able to strike up conversations with others on the train. I felt out of place.

I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be there permanently. *

This of course made me face the reality that migrants face all over the world, and most certainly where I live in the US.

I remember seeing the movie The Namesake (, which does a beautiful and heartbreaking job of showing first-generation immigrants from West Bengal in the United States. It shows the woman (the mom) struggling as she tries to adjust to life in the US and having to do things like buy groceries.

I am not sure how many people stop to realize how brave people are who leave everything to come and live in another country where they do not speak the language. Many people do not want to leave their homelands, but they do, and many, like farm workers, do it with the hope of a better life for their children.

There is a lot that they leave behind – not just their families, but their ancestors’ land and familiarity; many also leave good jobs behind. There are doctors from other countries who end up being cab drivers here. Mark and I went to a Thai restaurant where the young woman serving us was actually a dentist, but she couldn’t get a job in the US doing that type of work.

When I travel to non-English-speaking countries, I am always so thankful for how kind people are to me, especially with my very bad attempts to speak their language. More than not, they apologize for not knowing English, and I always have to remind them that their English is far better than my Cantonese, Italian, etc. 

I worry that many in the US forget that English is not the most widely spoken language in the world, yet we expect others to conform to us.

Ironically, when we returned from our trip, we went to an electronics store (I had been without a phone for over two weeks as mine was run over by a truck) and an older white man came into the store. I won’t go into all the details, but he berated one of the employees (the manager, who was a POC) about a fee. I bit my tongue for quite a while, but when the man started to speak to the worker in his version of Spanish, I’d had enough.

I had to speak up. I found this to be incredibly racist. As if the worker wasn’t quite understanding him in English?

I told the man that the worker clearly spoke English so there was no need to speak to him in Spanish. I went on about him being an employee of a corporation and he was just following their rules so that the man should definitely follow up with them. I also mentioned how workers and POC are treated, and he said that this man was not a POC.

Then I had to ask why he was speaking to Jesús in Spanish and had to explain some colonization to him.

Many of the employees seemed to appreciate what I did, and the man (who I did agree with his complaint and told him so) didn’t seem to understand what was wrong with what he was doing. (“Jesús, I am going to spend 10 hours writing them a complaint letter and mention you specifically.”)

I don’t think that many white people understand the privilege they have of learning and speaking Spanish. For many, speaking Spanish or having an accent is NOT a bonus. Latinx communities have been encouraged to assimilate and have been punished when Spanish was spoken.

We have been made to feel ashamed of our language and our people. So, please don’t assume every Latinx person speaks Spanish or express shock when they don’t. For many, there is a history behind it.

When a non-native English speaker talks to me in words and not in sentences while not using perfect grammar, that is who I sound like when I try to speak Italian and am doing my best.

No one is perfect, but we can all do our part to use language like the living tool it is, and when necessary, adjust it to be more compassionate and inclusive when communicating with others.

*Okay, I am a resilient person and I could adjust, but what came to my mind were all of the people living in the US who do not speak English. (Just a reminder that many places in the US, like where my ancestors are from, used to be Mexico.)