Being vegan has really helped me to continue to move toward a life that speaks to my values. But as a Latina, I know that just being vegan doesn’t make my life cruelty-free or fully compassionate. Now, I may get some shit from some vegans and that’s ok. I want people to understand that the animal agriculture business is horrible and I’m not saying that being vegan isn’t a good place to start but it isn’t a magic bullet. The reason is because of those who pick the veggies, fruits and nuts that I so enjoy everyday as part of my vegan diet. Their stories and lives are forgotten by the community that is so urgent that people eat vegan to live a life full of compassion and free of cruelty.
When I started researching this topic I was surprised at how many articles that I found about it. Unfortunately, many of the articles were not written by vegans but by meat-eaters trying to find some flaw in veganism. And though I think this constant need for meat-eaters to try and trip up a vegan is really annoying, I think that these articles made good points. What about the migrants who pick our veggies? Do they not deserve the same compassion that we give animals; the same thought when we go to the grocery store? The same outcry when they are mistreated?
As I started looking for more and more information on the intersection of veganism and migrant workers, I found that there were hardly any resources for vegans that could help us build solidarity with migrants workers and their struggle. I looked for farms that were ethical, that treated their workers with humanity and paid them a living wage, that gave them water on hot days and that let them have bathroom breaks. But unfortunately, those things are not really listed on their websites, though it should be.
And yes, just in case you are reading this and didn’t know how migrant workers are treated, the very tip of the iceberg is this: some farmhands don’t let farm workers use the bathroom! Something that is supposed to separate us from the animals is our humanity and yet, we continue to show our barbarity by not giving other living beings the basic necessity of using the bathroom. We can be, at times, the most inhumane of all animals. We make the choice to be cruel to others, both human and non-human animals.
I was going to make this post about the treatment of farm workers on the farms that grow the majority of what’s on my plate every day but I’m going to link to an amazing organization that is working to connect the two topics that I’m connecting in the post and can speak more eloquently about the connection. Food Empowerment Project is a non-profit here in Northern California that works with vegan consumers to educate and empower themselves to make good food choices that are as ethical as possible. It was started by a fellow Latina vegan named Lauren that was kind enough to answer my questions when I emailed them for more information about some ethical farms in the area. Unfortunately, there aren’t many, like one or two, but she did give a suggestion that helps us start moving in a more ethical direction: buy organic!
Buying organic isn’t just good for our bodies and our environment but it is also good for those that pick the veggies we eat. The reason for this is that when pesticides are being sprayed on crops, they are usually sprayed from above. This makes sure that is covers every inch of the plant. It does the job amazingly, too well actually, because it also covers the people in the fields tending and harvesting the products. Usually, workers are not given proper attire to wear so that they don’t breathe in the pesticides or they are forced to enter fields that have been freshly sprayed earlier than recommended. Workers, and their families, get sick from the pesticides. There has been connections to everything from reproductive issues to Alzheimer’s. But at least if you buy organic, you’ll be kept from ingesting the pesticide and so will the worker that picked that delicious fruit or veggie you’re about to eat.
My suggestion, besides eating organic, is that we as vegans stand in solidarity with huelgas when they’re happening. I must admit that I don’t always do this because of the inconvenience but to consider myself a compassionate person and someone who wants to live out my values and live cruelty-free, I have to. The most recent huelga was against Driscoll’s, which is one of the largest berry companies with farms in both the US and Mexico. There was a strike in Baja California because of the unfair and unethical practices of the owners. And yet, I bought Driscoll’s strawberries because I wanted cut strawberries on my yogurt. It’s so absurd and cruel to think about how I ate those strawberries without guilt and yet, felt guilt when eating dairy-based yogurt because of the treatment of dairy cows. This is where the idea that vegans don’t care about humans comes from, I think. Because even someone like me who sees the intersections between movements and the need to stand in solidarity with those movements could buy the strawberries! It’s ridiculous! But I know that I will do and be better.
Standing in solidarity with worker strikes is an essential part of living a compassionate and cruelty-free life if we’re trying to make ethical choices through our eating habits as most vegans are. Now, of course most things we have are made at the hands of the suffering of others. That’s the course that we’re on now, a capitalistic agenda that makes everything into commodities so that it can make that extra buck. But knowing that I’ll be a walking contradiction, that I’ll never be fully cruelty-free, isn’t going to deter me from making the choices that will help me make what little impact I can on the world. I urge you to do the same.
I hope that this starts a conversation about ways that vegans can continue to grow as a community beyond what others think we care about and be outwardly vocal about all the intersections that our identities cross, whehter it be about human or non-human animals.
In solidarity with all sentient beings,