ANDA Interview with lauren Ornelas, Food Empowerment Project
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F.E.P. Food Empowerment Project
July 2017

Word of F.E.P. is spreading wider throughout the world! People around the globe are interested in and inspired by F.E.P.’s commitment to making connections between injustices in the food system. We stand up for human and non-human animals, and that resonates with people everywhere.

Read this fantastic interview with lauren about her activism by Brazilian group ANDA!
See original interview in Portuguese here.

lauren Ornelas
Photo credit: In Her Image Photography

Aline Khouri: When and how did your transition to veganism occur?

lauren: I went vegetarian in the early 1970s when I was in elementary school as I didn’t want to contribute to the separation of families by hurting animals. Due to financial circumstances, I was not able to stick with it. It wasn’t until the ‘80s that I went vegetarian permanently, and later in high school, I was introduced to a local animal rights group and learned about veganism. I pretty much went vegan overnight – meaning I got rid of what few leather products I had and stopped eating eggs and milk, etc.

How did you decide to become an activist and how has been your fight for animal rights?

This is a great question. You know, I am not sure I ever decided to be an activist. I think it just happened that way. There were so many injustices, and I wasn’t content just changing my own personal lifestyle. I wanted to join my voices with others – in terms of human rights issues, against apartheid in South Africa, the death penalty, and the war. I also wanted to be there to inform others about what was happening to non-human animals.

My involvement in the animal rights movement has spanned more than 30 years, and I have seen debates within the movement from the 1990s come up again in the 2000s. It has been a personal evolution, but my commitment has never wavered. I have participated in most forms of activism from civil disobedience to passing legislation for the animals.

You founded the organization Viva! USA in which participated in investigations at factory farms. How was this experience?

When I saw The Animals Film in the 1980s, I watched what was happening to animals with horror. I also watched thinking I could never do investigations like these. But I did because I had to. The experience left me having nightmares on a regular basis. Some included the animals I had just documented and some had all of the animals combined, such as ducks with pigs. It was emotionally difficult. However, I was never there to personally document myself liberating animals. My goal was to capture what was happening to them while my camera was on them. My time there was to focus on them and to use what I was capturing to help create change, such as getting a store to stop selling feathers.

Which investigation impacted you the most during this time? Why?

I have to say that all of my investigations impacted me in one way or another. I have grown to have an incredible fondness for ducks due to the fact that I investigated so many farms around the US and liberated some little ones before they even had their feathers. There were the mama cows in the dairy industry bellowing to their babies, and I remember collapsing after chicken investigations, realizing just how many are killed.

But I think the hardest might have been the investigation of the pigs in the gestation and farrowing crates. One reason it impacted me so much was seeing the pigs in the farrowing crates and knowing they could not even stretch out their legs—the reality of them not being able to take a step is so much more real when you look at how they are living. Not to mention that they were pregnant. Knowing that mama pigs are killed after about 4 years meant that even years after I left them, and talked about them, and watched the video I took of them, they were still there. I couldn’t shake that off.

They constantly banged their heads against the doors of the crates which echoed in my nightmares. Nothing to do at all but lie in these small crates. Even when the moms gave birth, there was nothing for them except another crate where they couldn’t even turn around—no bedding, nothing. And, of course, this mother pig would have her babies taken away from her.

You are also the founder of Food Empowerment Project. What is the purpose of the initiative and how does it work?

Food Empowerment Project is a vegan food justice organization. We are an ethical vegan organization that strives to connect various injustices taking place in the food industry. The goal of our organization is to work towards a more just food system for human and non-human animals. Many of the same threads of oppression are connected and we do not want to single out and work to stop just one of them—we want to work to eliminate those that we can by showing people the power of their food choices.
How can our food choices be a means of empowering and transforming the world?

For many of us, the cruelties and injustices of the world are incredibly painful and we survive mainly by working to create change. For the work we do at F.E.P., I had to limit it just to food; otherwise, the scope would have been too broad. One of the reasons we have the word “empowerment” as part of our name is because when people are able to feed their families and grow their own food, it is empowering. When people can feed their families from the work they do and keep everyone healthy, that is empowering. For people to be horrified by what happens to both human and non-human animals in the food system and have tools to help them not contribute to it, that is empowering.

When people not only use their individual food choices but also use their collective voices to change policy or corporations, that is power.

Food Empowerment Project deals not only with animal exploitation but also with human exploitation. In which ways can the oppression of nonhuman animals be related to oppressions of other groups?

I believe that oppression has been created by the concept of dominance. Other beings are somehow seen as “less than” or even “different.” This then allows others to be exploited. We use different names and different words for the products we create from animals, such as “pork” from pigs, and for human animals it can come in the form of a slur. Whether it’s animals used in experiments and seen as being unable to feel the same sort of pain we do, or immigrants from Mexico coming to the United States to pick produce somehow being seen as “inferior,” and therefore not needing or deserving fair working conditions, it’s oppression. The farm workers do the work that many others don’t want to do. And they do this because of the lives they want their children to lead, and without them, we wouldn’t have the food to put on our plates.

What transformations have you noticed in activism since you decided to defend the animals and what is your analysis of the current scenario?

The main transformation I have noticed in activism is that there are fewer campaigns for animal liberation, and important issues such as animal testing for cosmetic and household products have taken a back seat—at least in the US. This is incredibly disturbing given that in the US this testing is not even required by law, so it should be easy to change a company’s guidelines and procedures. Unfortunately, I have always noticed the egos in this movement, and with social media this seems to have only increased. The focus seems to be less on the animals and more on the humans in front of the camera.

The most encouraging transformation I have noticed is that the number of us vegans, especially vegan women of color who recognize the connections of various social justice issues, is just starting to grow. Groups like F.E.P., Black Vegans Rock, VINE and the work of Dr. Breeze Harper and Brenda Sanders, and podcasts like Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack! are thankfully starting to get more exposure.

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