Guest Post: lauren Ornelas, Food Empowerment Project

Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P.) is a vegan food justice nonprofit organization seeking to create a more just world by helping consumers recognize the power of their food choices. F.E.P. works in solidarity with farm workers, advocates for chocolate not sourced from the worst forms of child labor, and focuses on access to healthy plant-based foods in communities of color and low-income communities.

F.E.P. is also the chosen organization that will receive donations from sales of our newest book, Veganism in an Oppressive World, a Vegans-of-Color Community Project, edited by author & illustrator, Julia Feliz Brueck and with contributions from vegans of color from around the globe.

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I remember when I started Food Empowerment Project and explained to fellow animal rights activists about some of our goals. I was told that racism isn’t that bad. Well, at this point in time, I don’t think anyone can deny the blatant racist comments and actions that are taking place across the country right now. The time is up for us to ignore it, and we must constantly use our voices to speak out against it.

For those of us, like myself, who are sci-fi fans, we know that one of the beauties about sci-fi is how writers can cleverly weave commentary about issues, such as racism, animal exploitation, sexism, etc. – within the story lines set in another time and place while making them relevant to the here and now.

My husband and I have been watching Twilight Zone episodes, and one struck me that I just can’t shake. The episode is called “He’s Alive,” and the description from IMDB summarizes that, “Around 1960, a tiny neo-Nazi organization struggles pathetically to succeed in a big city. A mysterious figure begins to ruthlessly guide a young, insecure U.S. Nazi leader, and the group begins to draw more attention.” The episode had me thinking about how people treat various forms of discrimination, including racism, homophobia, cruelty to animals, and the treatment of immigrants. You have those who speak hate and vitriol, those who listen and are uncomfortable with it but laugh as they do not know what to say, those who agree, and finally, those who speak against it.

I believe that it’s not unusual for many of us to experience these types of responses based on our reactions to conversations about discrimination, mostly from people we don’t know well or work with. I was faced with this when my husband and I chose to protest Prop 8 in California (Prop 8 made marriage equality illegal) by having our wedding in Massachusetts, which legalized marriage equality. I was asked, and continue to be asked, why we married out of state. People want to know if it is because we had family there or if we met there. Every time someone asked, I knew this was an opportunity to make a statement against hatred and discrimination. I told the truth and said it in a way that would assume that any decent person who does not believe that marriage inequality was discrimination would agree with me and understand why we had to make this choice. Did everyone agree with us and embrace what I had to say? Certainly not. Should I worry about offending people whose point of view is different to mine? To me, that would be no different than being silent and not speaking up about other forms of discrimination. And that is a small way in which we all can use our voice. It doesn’t mean we have to scream (although clearly there are times when this is necessary), but we must not be silent. We must not laugh or ignore the hatred that is being spouted these days. We should not listen to these shock jocks and laugh. We should not give them anything.

Why should those with the most constant and loudest voices be those who speak such absolute disgust? Even if we don’t have the microphones they do, we must use our voices because collectively we can be loud.

Now most people who are reading this (if you have continued to read) are not ones who would remain silent when animal cruelty is involved. However, I start to worry that this trend is creeping into our movement in an insidious way. Every time someone talks about “humane” meat or cage-free eggs, it is as if the discussion of the reality of the actual suffering, cruelty, and deaths of these animals is erased, because the conversation, for the most part, stops there.

Why is it that those who bring up these injustices are seen as not allowing others to have a good time? Why aren’t those that make homophobic, racist ,or sexist jokes seen as the kill joys?

These conversations, as uncomfortable as they might be, must see the light of day and not be overshadowed by laughter or the thought that it will all go away if we don’t talk about it.  I don’t want to have to worry that my group will lose support because a racist or a homophobe reads this. Enough. We must take stands against those who seek to oppress people, even if they support animal issues. We must use our collective voices to speak out against all forms of injustice if we think we can ever chip away at it.

Veganism in an Oppressive World will help guide you towards consistent anti-oppression in our movement, so that we can truly create the just world we all want to be a part of.

lauren Ornelas, Food Empowerment Project

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Guest Post: Michelle Carrera, Chilis on Wheels

In tune with Sanctuary Publisher’s mission, a portion of sales from

Baby and Toddler Vegan Feeding Guide by Julia Feliz Brueck

will go towards supporting the work of Chilis on Wheels.

Jimmy Cow 2017

Through this beautifully written guest post, Michelle Carrera, founder of Chilis on Wheels, tells us more about this inspiring vegan-based humanitarian organization that is helping to change daily lives while staying true to nonhuman animal justice:

I’m sitting in the van of TheVTeamTour, rain pitters and patters on the roof, the refrigerator spurts and goes silent, our solar power is out; condensation arises and the windows begin to fog; Ollie, my six-year-old says “I’m bored”; Meli, the dog sees a squirrel in the distance and starts barking; my head throbs. I take a second and go inside myself, as I breathe “Think of what all this is about. Think of all the people it will help”. Clouds don’t immediately part, but I slow down and it doesn’t look so ugly and despairing after all. This is what Chilis on Wheels, and now its offshoot project TheVTeamTour has been all about. About gaining perspective on our privileges, and using every last bit to help others.

Chilis on Wheels is a mobile vegan soup kitchen that builds community around free vegan food. Among a warm vegan meal, we provide vegan education, personal care products not tested on animals in our Free Store; we engage the youth into participating in their community, and we create spaces where people can gather; we provide the warmth and the support of a community; and we create a safe space where everyone can belong to and take shelter from the harshness of the world. Because our communities are built by real people, what that space looks like is always changing according to the people that integrate it.

It all started on Thanksgiving 2014 when I looked for a vegan soup kitchen to volunteer at with my son, to teach him about community and to connect him and myself to other people. Upon not finding such a thing, Ollie and I made 15 meals in our kitchen, and distributed it ourselves to people in the streets of New York City. Unbeknownst to me, this day changed the course of my life. Something that day told me I needed to do more, and I started giving food out monthly, then weekly. I ran a crowdfunding campaign to help fund it, and I have poured all my resources, all my time, all my energy into making it flourish. Last year, we served 11, 239 meals!pizza day

Both Ollie and I have grown tremendously during this time. I have learned to trust more, in myself, and in others, in that everything will work out. I have learned that we are all rich, that money is not the only capital, not even the most important one; that when we band together and pool our skills, anything is possible. Last Thanksgiving, on our biggest event of the year, we served 1,000 vegan meals and covered the entirety of Manhattan! Close to 200 people joined us and helped serving, cooking, transporting, getting the word out, writing, printing, and taking pictures. In the end, on a day most people spend with their families, people who found themselves alone found a community to share a meal with; a meal possible thanks to the collective efforts of more than 200 people.

It is about the people that share a meal with us. I have made some great friends from the people that we serve. Irene is an older woman. She is gentle and kind, and soft spoken. She has been coming to our gatherings every week for two years, we talk of the weather, and our families, always positive and kind thoughts. James Brown joins us every week too, we like to complain about our aches, and throw some jokes in to ease it. Marcella sometimes brings her two lovely granddaughters. Chile gifts us the donations he receives from the food bank, things he cannot cook because he does not have a kitchen, for things we have already made. Howie is quiet but he is also kind, and loves the products we offer on our Free Store. Maria CoWMaria, is a 96-year-old woman from Puerto Rico, who I have adopted as my grandmother. She walks close to a mile every week to see us. She has come to a period in her life, where she has no one else to count on, except her grandson who visits her about once a month. In the meantime, she has us every Saturday to talk to, to laugh with, to complain to, or joke with. We have given her our phone numbers so she knows she can call us if she ever needs anything. She came to us very depressed and lonely, and we have seen her flourish since, making jokes and being saucy. Chilis on Wheels is so much more than just a meal.

It is about the volunteers. The people that come week after week to make this happen. People that store supplies in their closets which in the limited real estate of NYC this is a HUGE deal! People that come to cook on Saturday mornings, people that tread through blizzards, thunderstorms, heat waves, to make sure the people that rely on us for their Saturday meals, will not go empty handed. Michelle Thiele in the kitchen 2017Michelle Thiele, now our NYC Chapter Director, a vegan mom to Jamie, one of our youngest volunteers who started helping us out when he was just 2 years old, comes week after week, stores food, cooks it, transports it, seeks out donations, coordinates volunteers, always with such a warmth! Her husband, Jeff, also helps us out every week with his permanent kind smile and solid support. Natassia comes in every week always willing and ready to help in whatever is needed. Christian, our Director of Chapter Development, our Renaissance Man, does a bit of everything, from shoveling snow to helping install solar panels in TheVTeamTour van, to cooking, to drumming up donations, to staying in touch with new chapters. Blake is our favorite babysitter and rule enforcer. And Jimmy, who came to us referred to by a social service agency two years ago. Jimmy is a young vegan; he was going through some hardships and found himself without a place to live, and looking for meals without animal products in the soup kitchens and shelters. Thankfully a social service agency connected us, and Jimmy came in one rainy afternoon. He instantly fit in with our volunteers, and he started coming weekly, having a meal with us and helping us to set up, and serve. Eventually he heard of a job opening in the Parks Dept. in NYC, and he applied, putting in his experience working with us, and including as a reference. He got the job, and has worked with them since. And he still finds time to volunteer with us most weeks. He is our Chilis on Wheels family, where we come together to care for ourselves and our community.

It is about the vegan education, and who we talk to about veganism, about inexpensive but filling and rich meals without animal products. It is about connecting people with their food, in the ingredients, in the process of growing it and bringing it to their table. We visited a school in the Bronx and we gave our standard talk on the importance of plant-based nutrition, connecting it to their readings and their community, and a student, 13 years of age, became so touched that she approached me after the talk, and asked me a million questions a minute. Her mind raced to keep up the pace with the new information; her ethics transformed that day, and we stayed in touch. She is now vegan, and although she cannot volunteer with us because we are more than an hour away from her, she stays in touch and texts me to update me on what she has said to her family and her friends and her local community activism.

So, when the rain pours down and everything seems so hard to live with, I take a minute to think of all the people we have brought together, and the ripple effects our presence continues to create. TheVTeamTour is going across the country gathering folks together to build communities around free vegan food, setting up chapters of Chilis on Wheels, infusing them with our contagious energy to build networks of people, to realize the value of our most underestimated capital: our communities. 

Support this amazing organization  and  nonhumans by ordering a copy of the Baby and Toddler Vegan Feeding Guide by Julia Feliz Brueck:

Order the paperback and eBook on Amazon

Also available at Vegan Essentials.

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