I was inspired to write this blog after listening to a recent podcast presented by One Bite Vegan Food for Thought Summit. It featured founder and executive director of the Food Empowerment Project (FEP), Lauren Ornelas. It is a vegan organization founded by women of color whose mission seeks to create a more just and sustainable world by recognizing the power of one’s food choices. The podcast pushed me to reflect on my 32-year journey as a vegan and how the thread of veganism is woven into my daily life.
I initially became a vegetarian in 1972 for compassionate and spiritual reasons and then vegan in 1987. The killing of sentient beings for food just did not feel consistent with my spiritual path. At that time, I was aware of the inherent cruelty in the factory farm world, but was not aware of the cruelty that may be involved in many of my consumer purchases.
Early in my vegan journey, there was no official rating-system to help us vegans find cruelty-free products. I can remember reading labels on skin-care products while at my local health-food store hoping to find one that did not contain any animal products. Just because they said natural did not mean that the product was cruelty-free. Luckily we now have organizations like the Leaping Bunny, one of several cruelty-free certification programs.
While listening to the interview with Lauren, she discussed that just because we are eating vegan food, does not mean that it is necessarily cruelty-free. She stated that the three crops most notorious for child/slave-labor are chocolate, coffee, and bananas.
Chocolate–Not All Is Sweet
A luxury food that we all love and crave is chocolate. It is a $60-billion-dollar industry, and according to Lauren, rampant with child labor and slavery. Many of these children are trafficked into Western Africa, coerced to work without pay, or earn only $2 per day. Many of these children are sold into slavery by their own relatives. They work long hours in unsafe conditions. Cruelty-free and slave-free chocolate is available. Go to FEP’s chocolate list for best options.
Coffee–the Bitter Brew
Who doesn’t like their morning cup of Joe? But many aren’t aware of the cruel labor practices that are inherent in its production. Coffee is the most popular beverage consumed in the developed world and the U.S. is the largest consumer of this popular and addictive drink. Child labor is common practice throughout coffee plantations in Latin America. Workers often earn as little as 2% of retail price.
According to FEP’s website, children as young as 6 years old work 10+ hour days and are exposed to unhealthy working conditions. Even non-human animals such as the Asian palm civet are exploited for the most expensive cup of coffee in the world, costing around $80 per cup. The coffee beans are fed to the civet and then retrieved from their feces. Evidently this process makes for better tasting coffee. These little animals are confined in cages and live in factory-farm-like conditions while being force-fed coffee beans. Go to FEP’s Coffee page for more information on the unjust practices of coffee cultivation and to find which coffee brands are cruelty-free.
Bananas–the Truth Behind the Peel
My mom used to always say how she loved her “nanners.” This is a fond memory from my childhood and I too grew up to love my “nanners.” Bananas are one of the most favorite fruits in the world, and according to FEP, 100 billion are consumed annually. Again, children suffer at the hands of the profit-driven corporations like Chiquita.
The impact of banana cultivation is far-reaching and not only has devastating impacts on humans, but on animals and the environment too. Historically, since the 1800s, banana cultivation has been responsible for clear-cutting in the rainforest in favor of this mono-crop. FEP recommends we purchase our bananas from “Equal Exchange.” You can find more information at https://foodispower.org/our-food-choices/bananas.
I am thankful to Lauren and her organization, the Food Empowerment Project, for making me more aware of my food choices and providing me with the information about how all my consumer choices effect the web of life. I’m certain that for me and the majority of vegans, the importance of being able to purchase cruelty-free products is paramount. The vegan movement is all about creating a just world for all who share this beautiful and amazing blue planet. Vegan-On!!
Nina D’Andrea is an alumnus of the October 2019 Main Street Vegan Academy. She is the owner of Vibrant Vegan Wellness–Plant-Powered Lifestyle Coaching Services that specializes in assisting individuals who want to transition to a vegan lifestyle. She works with individuals with gastrointestinal issues such as GERD & IBS and offers weight loss services through a vegan diet. She is a board-certified family nurse practitioner with specializations in Gastroenterology, Internal Medicine, and Cardiology. She lives in Sarasota, Florida with her husband, Victor, and four cats.