At the Animal Rights 2018 National Conference in the U.S., Ornelas was recognized for her decades of activism and social justice projects. “In 1987 I got involved in the animal rights movement and it changed my life forever,” Ornelas said at the conference. “I attended my first national animal rights conference in 1988 and I decided then, that forever I would be dedicating my life to non-human animals and to try to stop all the cruelty that takes place upon them at the hands of humans.”
She explained that she has been involved in numerous protests and undercover operations and that she has been arrested multiple times. “You do what you have to do for the animals,” she noted.
Ornelas thanked the committee for making her the first woman of color to be recognized by the organization, joining the two men of color previously inducted.
“I also want to thank Ethan, Don, and Jen for also doing what they could to help this movement be one that is now safe for everyone and to do what they can to make sure that we are all valued and protected,” she said.
She continued, “I also want to thank all the activists today who protested the separation of families and who protested against the Muslim ban. I’m sorry I could not be there with you but my heart was there.”
Ornelas has been vegan for more than 30 years. Her history of consuming animal products has been complex. She explained, “I went vegetarian when I was five years old but I couldn’t stick with it because my family didn’t have a lot of money. I also had to work fast food when I was vegan because my family didn’t have any money.”
Since this time, she has helped deliver changes to major companies. She persuaded Whole Foods Market’s CEO John Mackey to go vegan and convinced Trader Joe’s to stop selling various kinds of duck meat. Additionally, Ornelas’ non-profit Food Empowerment Project works to implement change across a range of areas. The vegan organization fights for workers’ rights, highlights the abuse of farm animals, educates the public on the depletion of natural resources, speaks out about child labor, and works with communities of color that have a lack of access to healthy foods.
At the Animal Rights Conference, she explained that Food Empowerment Project embraces diversity, saying that “we know that all of our stories are different, all our experiences are different, and we don’t come from the same place. Strength is in our differences and in our diversity.”
She added, “We are about building bridges and not building walls. I think we can all do this.”
Image Credit: Lauren Ornelas