Calls for boycotting Amy's Kitchen went viral Sunday, March 13 after the People's Food Co-Op posted on Instagram, saying the Portland grocer would no longer stock Amy's products on their shelves until demands are met.

A worker for Amy’s Kitchen — a family-owned company that manufactures organic non-GMO convenience foods — filed a formal complaint with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) late February, asking regulators to intervene at the Santa Rosa, CA production plant. The allegations stunned Gen Z fans of the frozen food manufacturer, some to the point of boycotting the brand completely.

Filed by Amy’s employee Cecilia Luna Ojeda on behalf of all her co-workers, the OSHA complaint alleges workplace injuries, hazardous conditions, unfair employee treatment, hostility from managers, and faulty machinery. The news follows a January NBC investigation, chronicling the conditions and treatment of the 630 workers at the plant who cook, package, freeze and ship meals that are beloved by health-conscious consumers across the country.

“Without immediate action, workers will continue to get injured and/or possibly killed,” the complaint states.

The allegations came as a shock to Gen Z, many of whom relied heavily on Amy’s as an option for organic, vegan, healthy, and accessible meals during busy weeks of work and school. Former Amy’s customers are now seeking other health-conscious, plant-based, sustainable companies whose practices more accurately reflect their values.

25-year-old Isaias Hernandez, better known by his TikTok handle @QueerBrownVegan, told Spoon University that he “felt hurt” by the allegations. Like other college students, Hernandez was intrigued by Amy’s Kitchen’s focus on plant-based foods and use of organic ingredients in their freezer-friendly meals. Since learning about the allegations against Amy’s and hearing from workers at the Santa Rosa plant, Hernandez has decided to boycott Amy’s Kitchen and their products, and told Spoon University that he has the economic privilege to no longer have to buy from them.

“When the news was released my heart sank and knew that when businesses are growing year over year, they become less worker-oriented and more production-oriented,” Hernandez said. “Businesses and corporations devalue their people over profit. People are seen as commodities and that’s where I draw the line between my purchasing decisions.”

Gen Z is ultimately adhering to their values, even if that means steering away from household names – including Amy’s Kitchen – that may not practice what they preach. According to the National Retail Federation, our tech-savvy generation focuses on quality and authenticity in branding, and is not easily swayed by marketing gimmicks – especially since we have the digital skills to know what’s real and what’s fake.

For 24-year-old Alejandra Tolley, the allegations against Amy’s Kitchen are contradictory to her vegan lifestyle and values. Tolley is the editorial content manager for Veggie Mijas, a collective that creates educational content on veganism, food justice, workers’ rights, and animal liberation. Tolley told Spoon University that she believes the practices Amy’s market themselves on were not translating in their treatment towards their employees.

“As a vegan business, there's a social responsibility to have a humane impact on their community,” Tolley said. “When a vegan company goes out of its way to not confront the issues its employees are facing; it contradicts their notion to be ‘cruelty-free.’”

After learning of the labor allegations against Amy’s, 23-year-old Skylar Karzhevsky, who has been eating Amy’s for at least a decade, told Spoon University that she will no longer be buying their products. Karzhevsky enjoyed Amy’s products throughout college, as they were an uber-convenient nostalgic reminder of her vegetarian upbringing.

“Veganism as a movement should always support workers,” Karzhevsky told Spoon University. “Ultimately, Amy’s products are convenience foods I can live without.”

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Karzhevksy also expressed disappointment in how little she knew about the allegations against Amy’s, given her lifelong loyalty to the veggie-centric brand. Aside from Veggie Mijas, Karzhevsky told Spoon University that she “hasn’t seen anything about this reported in any major vegan publications or social media accounts that I follow, which is disappointing.” In addition to boycotting Amy’s Kitchen herself, Karzhevsky said that she will take more action and encourage others to do the same.

“One thing I’ll definitely do is let other veggie folks know about what the workers at Amy’s have reported, let them know about the unionization efforts, and encourage them to not buy their products until their demands are met, ” Karzhevsky said.

Some Gen Z members, though, may return to buying the beloved convenience meals – but only if certain criteria are met.

“I’d most likely return to Amy’s if they take accountability and demonstrate action to keep their workers safe, improve working conditions and benefits for employees at all levels,” said Kayla Kaplan, co-founder of VeganZine, to Spoon University. Moreover, Kaplan stated that she would have to “hear directly from Amy's employees that they feel comfortable and satisfied with whatever changes the company implements” before investing again.

The allegations against Amy’s Kitchen are part of a larger conversation surrounding labor and equity, and worker’s communication. Since the start of the pandemic, employees at major companies such as Kellogg’s and Starbucks have made efforts to unionize, citing unfair wages, staffing issues, and a lack of employee benefits. For many vegans, who preach humane treatment of animals, treatment of workers is intrinsically linked to ethics and the allegations against Amy’s do not reflect their values.

The current treatment of Amy’s employees is absolute hypocrisy, said Lauren Ornelas, the founder of the Food Empowerment Project.

“If you started your company to advance the healthy aspects of plant-based eating, it is outrageous to then disregard the health of your own workers,” Ornelas said. “It is critical that those of us who are vegan ensure that people understand that our form of veganism cares about human rights, too. We do not separate, and we call for justice and compassion for all.”

Veggie Mijas and the Food Empowerment Project called for a boycott together on the behalf of workers, earlier in February. A petition, organized by Teamsters and boosted by Veggie Mijas and the Food Empowerment Project, now has more than 4,000 signatures as of March 16.

Founded in 1987 out of the Berliner’s home, Amy’s Kitchen began when founder Rick Berliner couldn’t find any organic, vegetarian ready-made meals at his local grocery store. The brand quickly grew into a veggie-centric convenience food empire. “We choose what’s best for our customers, our farmers, our employees and our planet,” according to Amy’s website.

Amy's Kitchen spokesperson, Paul Schiefer, said in a statement to Spoon University that the Cal/OSHA complaint had “misstatements about the conditions and processes at Amy’s Kitchen.”

“Over the years, we have invested significantly in new equipment, practices, and cultural changes to provide safe working conditions and reduce the risk of injury at work,” Schiefer said. “We continually look to learn from our employees and implement additional improvements that support their safety as well as uphold one of our founding principles, taking care of each other.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated Alejandra Tolley's last name. It is Tolley, not Trolley.

UPDATE: This article was originally published Feb. 25, 2022 and updated on March 16 to include the People's Food Co-Op's post and reflect the growth of Veggie Mijas and the Food Empowerment Project's boycott.