Does Food Empowerment Project FEP Work With Other Organizations?
From Animal Rights/Vegan Activist Strategies Articles Archive

FROM lauren Ornelas, FEP Food Empowerment Project
October 2020

It is important to share why some we work with are more focused on the work and creating beautiful collaborations and others are not.


Food Empowerment Project, like many nonprofits, is often asked if we work with other organizations to further our message. As we all know, our voices are stronger together, though we also know that many people ask this question since other organizations seem to do similar work. Although Food Empowerment Project is not in that category, as we are unique, our different programs taken in a singular way are similar to work done by other NGOs.

We work with other community organizations in Vallejo on lack of access to healthy foods. We also work with many farm worker organizations to create regulatory and legislative changes. We are involved in discussions with organizations on heat stress issues, with coalitions to fight ICE, and as we learned that a lack of living wages contributes to food access issues, we have joined with various worker rights organizations. In fact, we are currently a member of the North Bay Jobs With Justice steering committee.

However, when we are asked if we collaborate with other animal organizations, we have to admit that we don’t work with many. And I feel it is important that our supporters understand a couple of the reasons why. Some are within our control, and some are outside of it.

For the most part, we are very clear that we do not work with many vegan organizations due to a variety of reasons. Some have publications and websites with recipes claiming to be “cruelty-free” and yet no mention is made of the suffering humans endure working on produce farms or in the chocolate industry (please note that we do not want animal/vegan organizations to take on issues outside of their mission to help non-human animals, as we need them fighting for them, but we do hope for more consistency). Meanwhile, other organizations would have us believe that it is easy for anyone to go vegan (our research has shown that is not the case, and we feel there are easy statements that can be made to clarify such claims). Also, there are many vegan/animal organizations that have at times posted either subtle or blatant racist memes or comments on their social media sites or shared information of racist or problematic organizations.

Recently, we were asked by an incredible organization in Oregon that works on social and economic justice for the rural community to join a coalition to stop a huge dairy. One of their community organizers, a Mexicana, emailed me because they were interested in our vegan work. Their team was very excited to work with us, as I was able to share my experiences in stopping a 6,000-cow mega-dairy and a 1,500-cow “heifer” farm in Solano County.

When I was asked to speak to the coalition (which includes other animal organizations), I was pretty open that we were a vegan organization, and we knew that might concern the small farmers but explained that if we focused on our common goal, we felt it might work.

However, when we were invited to join their calls (not the coalition), we were told we had to sign a common interest agreement where we saw an immediate conflict.

Here is what we wrote the coalition:

Three times on the first page the document states: “… advancing other strategies to further the mission and goals of Stand Up to Factory Farms, specifically the protection of Oregon’s air, water, family farmers, and animals, and the goal of a moratorium on new and expanding mega-dairies …”

As our organization is dedicated to protecting the animals, it would be a contradiction for us to defend those who are harming them. Of course, we do support produce farmers, but here it seems to be directed towards dairy farmers.

With a number of coalitions I have been a part of, there are various organizations that are a part of it but have different missions without the expectation that each other will then support the other organizations’ missions but instead the reason the organizations are coming together.
If the language was specific to issue at hand and state: “…advancing other strategies to further the mission and goals of Stand Up to Factory Farms, specifically the protection of Oregon’s air, water, family farmers, and animals, and the goal of a moratorium on new and expanding mega-dairies…”

I am so sorry but with the current language, we will have to pass on joining the coalition.

We did ask about changing the language, but that did not seem to be an option.

However, we were told this:

“It’s been possible for [organization name redacted] and some other animal advocates (and possible for farm-oriented groups to be willing to work with animal advocates) because of our alignment around the goal of a moratorium.”

It is an unfortunate situation in which animal organizations would sign something to protect those who are harming non-human animals. Perhaps it’s even worse that these organizations didn’t speak up and instead allowed their involvement, which is a powerful force, to just go along with this and give up the ability to say the animals also needed to be protected or just ask for the agreement to focus on the coalition’s goal.

Another recent example is that which is truly just “movement politics,” as stated quite well by one of my former colleagues.

In 2004, my previous organization, Viva!USA, worked with Teri Barnato (national director of the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights), Orly Degani (LA Lawyers for Animals), and Gene Baur (president of Farm Sanctuary) to pass a law that banned the sale and production of foie gras.

Over the years, the law has been challenged. I always had confidence in our law, as I will never forget Orly stating in the governor’s office that it was a tight piece of legislation.

Tragically, we lost Orly in early 2019, so when news of a new court decision came out about the law, we sought to connect with those organizations that had put together a coalition to work to defend it.

Unfortunately, these larger organizations decided that neither Food Empowerment Project nor Teri Barnato could be involved (Farm Sanctuary was already a member of the coalition). So even though Teri, one of her colleagues, and I were the main advocates regularly going to the Capitol to meet with the legislators, speaking about the issue around the state, attending hearings and meetings, and getting grassroots activists to turn out by the dozens in support of this legislation, and Teri found the author for the language that was passed into law, we are now excluded by some organizations that only jumped on board when it looked like we were going to win.

Not all cliques ended in high school...

It is important to share why some we work with are more focused on the work and creating beautiful collaborations and others are not.

Some organizations and individuals create the impression that Food Empowerment Project is hard to work with, and so they exclude us, but we want to make sure that you understand it is because we are true to our mission and our values.

We know that this is also a reason we are still a smaller organization compared to other organizations that are newer than us, but we are always happy to work with others who share our vision of a more just and compassionate world. If you don’t see us as part of a coalition you think we should be a part of, please feel free to ask us if there is a reason for it.

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