César Chávez shaped my life’s work. Chávez was a vegetarian and his belief that “only when we have become nonviolent towards all life will we have learned to live well ourselves” inspired me to dedicate my life to working to end the exploitation of animals and workers in the factory farming industry.
Chávez learned from his family dogs that all animals feel pain, fear, joy, and love, just as humans do, and he refused to contribute to violence toward animals by eating them. As a vegetarian, Chávez saved over 100 animals a year from the horrors of factory farms and slaughterhouses, where animals are subjected to intensive confinement, routinely mutilated without painkillers, and often have their throats slit while they are still conscious.
In addition to fostering cruelty to animals, exploitative jobs on factory farms and in slaughterhouses represent the epitome of what Chávez despised and fought against. Human Rights Watch has called meatpacking “the most dangerous factory job in America,” and according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, slaughterhouse workers suffer illness and injury at twice the rate of the national average. In 2009, a staggering 62 percent of employees surveyed at Nebraska meatpacking plants reported being injured at work within the previous year. The farmed-animal industry often lures immigrants far away from their homes with false promises of good jobs, knowing that undocumented workers will likely not report unsafe working conditions for fear of being deported. I am proud to stand up for workers by refusing to subsidize this dangerous and abusive industry, and I encourage others to join me and the millions of others who will not buy or consume meat, eggs, and dairy.
As a professional activist, I have helped to organize and participate in eye-catching demonstrations at meat-packing plants, worked to draw media attention to the exploitation of workers and animals on factory farms, and handed out free, healthy vegan food and vegetarian starter kits to passersby on the street. I am most proud of having pioneered my organization’s new outreach program specifically for the Latino community. One of the main goals of this program is to let Latinos know that, in addition to protecting workers and animals, eating a plant based diet can help them protect their health. The Office of Minority Health has stated that Mexican Americans “are 50% more likely to die from diabetes as non-Hispanic whites” and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Latinos have the second-highest obesity prevalence among adults. The good news is that switching to healthy vegan diet can help prevent and even reverse type 2 diabetes, and help people lose weight and keep it off. In fact, vegans are 18% thinner than meat-eaters and, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vegetarians also have lower rates of cancer and heart disease.
Chávez and Mahatma Gandhi are two of my heroes who reminded us all through their compassionate vegetarian diets that, as Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We can all follow in Chávez’ footsteps and combat injustice toward workers, minorities, and animals simply by going vegan.