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 Chinese, 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.)

Monday, October 10, 2016

Shame on Safeway

Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P.) has extensively studied access to healthy foods in communities of color and low-income communities in two areas: Santa Clara County, CA, and Vallejo, CA.

F.E.P. focused on Santa Clara County because, at the time, this is where we were based. I lived and worked in downtown San José, where there were liquor stores across the street from each other.

As a follow-up in Santa Clara County, the most impacted community in the county was found to be San José. We conducted focus groups there to find out from community members what the biggest barriers were and asked what they wanted and needed to improve the situation.

Because we only do our work in communities when invited, it was a request by David Hilliard (one of the founding members of the Black Panther Party) that took our work to Vallejo. We also worked with Vallejo People’s Garden, a community garden with volunteers and partner organizations throughout Vallejo. When we started our work in Vallejo, we had no idea that one of the contributing factors for the lack of healthy foods was going to be a grocery* store itself: Safeway. 

At a public meeting, Vallejo Board of Supervisor Erin Hannigan informed us that Safeway had put a deed on their former property. This deed prevented another grocery store from using it for the same purpose. In our recently released Vallejo report, we highlight on page 15 the impact this had on the community, which left the neighborhood and surrounding areas without access to a grocery store.

Keep in mind: I am not talking about the impact of a grocery store closing one location and re-opening a couple of blocks away. I am talking about leaving areas void of a grocery store when they move miles away.

Needless to say, I was absolutely disgusted and outraged to find out that Safeway was putting the health of communities at risk (including communities of color and some of the most vulnerable: the differently-abled and the elderly) and had the audacity to create such deeds. But I also knew Vallejo must not be the only community impacted by such greed.

We enlisted the help of Dr. Carol Glasser (who led the research on our report) and one of her students, Joseph Tope Sanni, and discovered that something similar had occurred in Washington, DC. I got in touch with a City Council Member’s office in D.C., who worked to pass a resolution in February of 2015 to stop this from continuing.

On May 27, 2015, I sent a letter to the CEO of Safeway (which is owned by Albertsons) urging Safeway to pass a policy to end the practice. On July 6, 2015, we received an unsatisfactory response from their VP of Public Affairs. We continued to engage with their VP until February of this year, when we realized that we were not going to get them to change their policy.

So we have decided to bring this disgrace to light.

We want to stop this damaging practice of placing deeds on former grocery store properties that don’t allow another grocery store from opening in the same location. All neighborhoods deserve the right to have access to fresh food!

We have had attorneys look at the legality of such deeds, and we know that even though it might be legal, it is immoral.

There are numerous barriers for people to be able to access healthy food—including the cost—because, unfortunately, many people are not paid living wages and many people are “time-poor and cash-poor”; they don’t have a lot of time OR money.  But barriers created by the very corporations that should be providing access to healthy foods should NOT be one of them.

Stopping this practice might just help communities across the U.S. gain access to healthy foods. At the bare minimum, stores should not stand in the way of access. Help us right this injustice!

Please join us
in demanding that Safeway/Albertsons eliminate restrictive deeds on their former properties that prevent new grocery stores from replacing them.

*Please note that F.E.P. is not implying that grocery stores are the solution to the problems that face many communities, nor will they create a solution; however, this is clearly a massive barrier. F.E.P. prefers to advocate for people growing their own food, community-owned grocery stores (co-ops), and solutions coming from community input and with their support.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Trying to help right an injustice (update on school supply drive 2016)

Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P.) is an ethically-based vegan organization, and although we recognize the environmental and health benefits when eating vegan, we promote veganism because we do not want to contribute to the suffering and death of non-human animals.

As a vegan organization, we know that we are not contributing to the suffering of non-human animals, but as we encourage people to consume more fruits and vegetables, we acknowledge the injustices that farm workers face, and we want to do our part to help right some of those wrongs.

For the third time, F.E.P. has coordinated a school supply drive for the children of farm workers.  We know how much they sacrifice for their children, and we do the school supply drive, not as an act of charity, but as a means of thanking them for all of their work while making sure their children know how much we want them to succeed (and what superstars they are!).

This blog, however, is mostly a time to thank all of YOU!

There are so many people who make this event powerful and meaningful, and it is always important for me to do my best to recognize everyone!

The farm workers and organizations
First and foremost, thanks to the farm worker organizations that got back to us about being able to donate the supplies.

This year, like last, we were able to work with the Center for Farmworker Families (CFF) and Graton Day Labor Center and support these fantastic organizations that work to help farm workers. F.E.P. also does other work (such as supporting the Coalition of Immokalee Workers Boycott Wendy’s campaign and Familias Unidas por la Justicia #BoycottDriscolls campaign) to join our voices with those of the farm workers. This year, we got connected with Movimiento Cultural de la Union Indigena through California Legal Rural Assistance, and during the school supply drive, we also worked with the United Farm Workers on passing a bill to pay overtime to farm workers.  I was hopeful we would have enough school supplies to share with them as well. Last, we also donated to assist the education of adult farm workers in Kettleman City.

Drop-off locations
I want to thank all of the drop-off locations that agreed early in the year to do this and then went on to promote and gather the school supplies. We could not do this without the generosity of their space and their strong belief in this effort: Center for Employment Training (San José), City Council member Ash Kalra’s office for securing and overseeing two location in San José at Edenvale Branch Library and Southside Community Center, Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Santa Rosa (Glazer Center), SoCo Nexus (the hub where our office is located), Marin Humane Society, Pesticide Action Network North America, Stanford Prevention Research Center, La Peña Cultural Center, and Pachamama Alliance.

Just like last year, the Latino Employee Resource Group of PG&E served as a drop-off location for their offices for a month!

Adding more donation spots:
We were incredibly excited to be contacted by people who wanted to be a part of this effort! We added more drop-off locations this year, and we were so glad to have them join us: Rainbow Grocery Cooperative, Whole Foods Market (Noe Valley), and the Discovery Learning Center (in Santa Cruz).

Bonus from our supporters outside of the Bay Area:
We also were so touched that so many of our supporters who didn’t live near a drop-off location had school supplies delivered to us! Even some of you outside of California! Thank you so much, and we will definitely include this next year as this made a huge difference!

Icing on the top:
But the giving didn’t stop there!

Our friends at SF Vegans got creative and coordinated a benefit (split between us and Farm Sanctuary) using nectarines from a tree they adopted and raised a lot of money at a brunch at Millennium and a bake sale which they then spent on loads and loads of school supplies!

But the generosity doesn’t stop there! The good people at Sanctuary Bistro, a vegan restaurant in Berkeley, decided to give 15% off to customers who brought in a backpack full of school supplies. Delicious and generous!

And thanks to all supporters who donated to F.E.P. to help cover some of the costs that we incurred to organize this event.

Picking up and packing!
A huge thanks to Susan Larsen and Corinna Dixon for helping me with picking up the school supplies! That might sound easy, but schedules have to be coordinated, and sometimes not all of the supplies will fit in our cars (yay!), so multiple trips are necessary!

Another huge thanks to the volunteers who helped to pack up the school supplies! One Saturday we spent more than 10 ½ hours getting them ready! Thanks to Brian Welch, Sandra & Joel Gluck, Mark Hawthorne, Stefanie Wilson, Sharon Daraphonhdeth, Christopher Larson, Mhris & her mom. And a special shout-out to Debbie for her help and for videotaping us at work.

The next Saturday, we were back at it! Thanks to Jenn Knapp & Jeffrey May (and Annie and Boostie) for opening their home and their help, along with Belle Stafford, Corinna Dixon, Ellen & Dennis Sweeney, Joel & Sandra Gluck, Lori Atkinson, and Mark Hawthorne.
And thanks to the kind folks at SoCo Nexus, where our office is located, who allowed us to use an extra office space for storing all of the supplies we were getting in – incredibly generous!

We also had an anonymous friend of farm worker families donate to help with the cost of renting a vehicle! The vehicle rental is crucial to getting the school supplies to Watsonville.

Our first delivery was part of our continued work with CFF and its founder Dr. Ann Lopez, whose relationship with these farm workers is one of trust and how my idea for the school supply drive got started. A huge thanks to all she does and continues to do!

When we arrived at our delivery location in Watsonville on Sunday morning, we noticed lots of children were starting to arrive too. I asked one if they were there for the school supplies, and he let me know that yes, he and his brothers and sisters were all there to get supplies. By the time we got the delivery vehicle in place, a long line of children was forming, waiting for the distribution. Dr. Lopez told me that people were calling her to get details about it, and we could probably deliver them all at this one location!

The line was as far as I could see, and I was nervous we would run out of supplies. CFF’s staff helped keep the kids focused on picking a backpack and keeping everyone in line.

The photos can speak for themselves, but the kids were adorable and were very excited!

Thanks to Erika Galera, Jennifer Knapp, Mark Hawthorne, Rick Kelley, Sharon Daraphonhdeth, and Susan Larsen for all of their help with the delivery. Thank you to Debbie for again documenting this with her video camera. It is an incredibly rewarding, but also exhausting experience.

During the following week, I also delivered school supplies to the office of the United Farm Workers in Santa Rosa, to the Graton Day Labor Center, to Movimiento Cultural de la Union Indigena in Windsor, and to the adult farm workers in Kettleman City.

Now how much did we collect?

We collected 379 backpacks -- 47 more than last year!

I want to thank the people who gave us cash donations so that we could purchase the supplies we were running out of to make sure that all of the kids had the same items in their backpacks. It is very important for us to make sure that the children all receive the same materials in each bag.

A big thank you to all of the other people involved who I didn’t specifically mention above:

Billy Lovci, Bob Martinez, Cindy Machado, David Crosby, Devika Ghai, Diane Flores, Ilene Jacobs, Jan Prater, Janessa Olsen, Jason Bayless, Jaya Bhumitra, Jeff Kunz, Jennifer Jones Horton, Jessica Holten, Chef Barry Horton, Jesús Guzmán, Joshua Barousse, Juan Garcia, Julio Molina, Laura Knapp, Lizbeth Valdez, Katherine Connors, the Latino Employee Resource Group of PG&E, Lorna Vetters, Marina Dsouza, Mariano Alvarez, Maricela Mares-Alatorre, Mario Valadez, Mindi Broughton & family, Natalie Neira, Patti Breitman, pattrice jones, Rebecca Coakley, Rosa González, SF Vegans Group, Sam Sohmer, Sarah Rice, Stacie Shih, Sue Sullivan, Teresa Sotelo, Valerie Belt, Wendy Lopez, and to our donors who supported this effort and all of our work!

Thanks to Raymund Talavera at KKUP for helping to promote this drive on his airway!

A heartfelt thanks to all of you again for helping my vision become a reality, and your generosity constantly fills my heart with hope and gratitude.

We plan to do this again next year, and we look forward to helping even more kids!

And now finally, enjoy the pictures of the kids:

And if you want to see photos of the packing up and supplies: