Lauren Ornelas, founder of the Food Empowerment Project, discusses The Power of Our Food Choices at TEDxGoldenGatePark event. Here is the full transcript of the TEDx Talk.
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Lauren Ornelas – Founder & Executive Director of Food Empowerment Project
“Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fearne to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. Fearne’s mother explains that a piglet was born a runt and is unlikely to survive. Fearne’s father intends to kill him.
Fearne runs outside. “Please don’t kill him. It’s unfair! He couldn’t help being born small, could he? If I had been very small at birth, would you have killed me?”
“Certainly not. A little girl is one thing, a runty little pig is another.”
“I see no difference. This is the most terrible case of injustice I’ve ever heard of.”
Maybe it was those lines from Charlotte’s Web that made an impact on me as child. Just as Charlotte’s Web was woven to save Wilbur’s life, my mind started to think about how we’re all connected.
Or maybe it was Disney’s fault for helping me see and hear Bambi’s fear after losing his mother to a hunter. Or the tears streaming down Dumbo’s face as his mother caressed him with her trunk when she was chained in a circus car.
It could have been growing up in Texas and seeing the cows in the fields and imagining, “What would it be like if one of them didn’t come home because of my hamburger?” The worry, the fear the others would experience.
Or perhaps it was my parents’ divorce. I can’t say that it was just one thing that started me thinking about the families of all sentient beings, but it is a part of who I am and helps form the choices that I make in my life. The thought of losing my mum or one of my sisters was a real fear for me growing up. I was even hurt when my sisters went away to college. This was my family. I didn’t want us to be separated.
Whatever the cause, I decided at a young age that I would help make choices that would minimize the suffering of sentient beings, such as wearing non-leather boots. If you remember one thing from my talk today let it be this: uninformed food choices can contribute to the suffering of sentient beings. Therefore, your food choices can change the world.
I went vegetarian for the first time when I was young. My mother told me that the chicken I was eating was, well, a chicken. I remember being in line in elementary school in the cafeteria and asking the server not to put meat on my cheese enchiladas. She asked if I was a vegetarian. In my young mind, I wondered why she thought I was old enough to take care of sick dogs and cats. I told her no.
When I was a teenager, I was able to stick with my commitment better. My mum would make me a separate meal such as enchiladas with corn inside. When I was in high school, she just learned to make quiche. And then, I went vegan. She said, “I give up.” I told her, I’ll eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day if I have to to stick with my commitment to go vegan.
Over time, I’ve learned more about the tragedy of the separation of these animals and the bonds that exist when they’re together. And I’ve adjusted my choices not to contribute to this. Mother cows, used in the dairy industry, have their babies taken away from them after birth. Because these large, magnificent mothers will fight to be with their babies.
In Southern Georgia, I had the heartbreaking opportunity to videotape a mother cow crying after she’d been separated from her baby. Her calf would bellow, and she would respond.
I sat in the meeting with a small dairy farmer from Washington who told a story about a cow who had enough of him taking her babies away. According to him, the cow had given birth to twins and when he couldn’t find one of them, he went looking. He eventually found that she had hidden one of them. According to him, she was trying to protect her baby. I’ve since learned this happens often.
But it’s not just cows. Pregnant pigs in a more natural environment build nests before they give birth, collecting branches in their mouths. Mother hens will use different vocalizations to protect their chicks from predators. Just like any mother, they want to protect their babies from harm. And just like human animals, these animals feel pain.
We are so detached from animals in our society, and we are also so detached from the means in which our food is produced. I eventually made a decision that I wanted to focus my energy on our food choices and how they can make a difference. We eat several times a day, and each food choice says something about ourselves. I believe, our individual food choices and collective voices can have an impact.