Ornelas was born in San Antonio, Texas and grew up in Texas, where she became a vegetarian as a child. She attended Douglas MacArthur High School in San Antonio from 1984 to 1988. When in high school, she became a vegan and started her first animal rights group.
Ornelas studied at St. Edward's University in Austin from 1990-1993, majoring in communications and minoring in political science. In 1992, she founded the St. Edwards Animals Rights Society, which transitioned into Action for Animals after she graduated. While in college, nuns tore down her "Go Veggie" posters. In the 1992-93 academic year, Ornelas was a recipient of the St. Edward's University Presidential Award.
Ornelas received her Bachelor of Arts degree from St. Edward's. She continued her work for animals while attending university and eventually became the National Coordinator for In Defense of Animals.
Ornelas worked for In Defense of Animals from 1995 to 1999. Viva! UK then asked Ornelas to start and run Viva! USA, a national nonprofit vegan advocacy organization, where she did numerous factory farm investigations. Ornelas ran Viva!USA from February 1999 to April 2006. As Viva! USA’s executive director, in cooperation with activists across the country, she also brought corporate changes to such powerful companies as Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe's, and Pier 1 Imports.
In 2003, Ornelas appeared at the annual shareholder meeting of Whole Foods Market and spoke about the treatment and the lives of the ducks that were killed to be sold in Whole Foods stores. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey was present and initially responded to Ornelas's speech dismissively. But a subsequent sequence of e-mails between Ornelas and Mackey, plus Mackey's reading of a dozen books on animal agriculture, resulted in Mackey becoming vegan.
In a 2004 address to the Empty Cages Conference, Ornelas described the results of Viva!USA's campaign to get grocery stores to stop selling duck meat:
"Grocery store chains, Earth Fare, Huckleberries, our local co-ops and Wild Oats either stopped buying duck meat from the farms we investigated or duck meat altogether. In fact, Trader Joe's stopped carrying all duck meat and put a statement on their website testifying to the fact that this was done because their customers were concerned about the treatment of the animals. With Trader Joe's the goal of our campaign was achieved."
In 2006, Ornelas’ desire to address a variety of social justice issues came to fruition with the opportunity to give a talk “Corporate Animal Farms: Exploiting Animals, Workers and the Environment, and Why You Should Work to Stop It” at the World Social Forum in Caracas, Venezuela. It was in Caracas that she noted that many of the issues being discussed revolved around food, from labor and immigration issues to water, animals, and the environment. Ornelas knew that being more responsible about what we eat was key to fighting injustice, and her idea for the Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P.) was born. Ornelas is the founder and executive director of F.E.P., a non-profit organization.
Ornelas campaigns against chocolate produced by labor of West African slaves. "How can we say vegan chocolate is cruelty-free just because it doesn't contain animal products? If it comes from the blood and sweat of slaves in West Africa -- children, no less -- it's certainly not cruelty-free,” she says.
Ornelas was one of several people who provided information used in the writing of the book Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism (2008) by Mark Hawthorne. She later married Hawthorne; they live in northern California.
Ornelas wrote a chapter of Lisa Kemmerer's 2011 anthology Sister Species: Women, Animals, and Social Justice.
In California's 2008 Proposition 2 campaign, Ornelas was the Santa Clara County director of the YES ON 2 campaign. After Prop 2 won, Ornelas and other Prop 2 activists formed Santa Clara County Activists for Animals (SCCAA).
Ornelas was Campaigns Director for Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition from March 2007 to July 2013.
Ornelas gave a talk on "The Power of Our Food Choices" at TEDxGoldenGatePark in San Francisco on October 9, 2013.
Ornelas appeared in the 2014 documentary film, Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret.Ornelas, lauren (October 2003). "Rebel Yell! The Satya Interview with Lauren Ornelas". Satya (Interview). Interview with Rachel Cernansky. Archived from the original on 2015-02-03. Retrieved 2015-02-02.
Ornelas, lauren (2010-02-26). "lauren Ornelas: Seeking Food Justice for All". Humane Connection (Interview). Interview with Marsha Rakestraw. Retrieved 2014-10-21.
Ornelas, lauren (2013-03-24). "An Interview with Lauren Ornelas". Berkeley Vegan Earth Day (Interview). Interview with Hope Bohanec. Archived from the original on 2014-08-28. Retrieved 2014-09-29.
Ornelas, lauren (2014-02-19). "lauren Ornelas on chocolate, slavery, food deserts, state of the movement". The Thinking Vegan (Interview). Interview with Gary Smith. Retrieved 2014-09-29.
Ornelas, lauren (2014). "Lauren Ornelas". Vegetarian and Vegan Youth (Interview). Archived from the original on 2014-08-02. Retrieved 2014-09-29.
Ornelas, lauren (2015-01-27). "Food Is Power: Interview with lauren Ornelas of Food Empowerment Project". Striving with Systems (Interview). Interview with Justin Van Kleeck. Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Archived from the original on 2015-02-03. Retrieved 2015-02-02.
Ornelas, lauren (2016-03-03). "Exclusive EVEN Interview with lauren Ornelas" (PDF) (Interview). Eugene, Oregon: Eugene Veg Education Network (EVEN). Retrieved 2016-03-06.
Ornelas, lauren (2000-09-14). "'Dump Duck Meat' says Sir Paul McCartney". Viva!USA. Archived from the original on 2015-02-03. Retrieved 2015-02-02.
Animal group Viva! was founded six years ago in England and this campaign marks its launch as a non-profit organization in the U.S.
Ornelas, lauren (2001-12-05). "Students to make Holiday Wish for Peace on Earth; Urge People to Eschew Traditional Holiday Meal". Viva!USA. Archived from the original on 2015-02-03. Retrieved 2015-02-02.
'The unspeakable horrors hidden behind the holiday ham are incompatible with the peaceful, life-affirming spirit of the holiday season,' said lauren Ornelas, Director of Viva!USA. 'This year, more than ever, the wish for Peace on Earth holds great meaning. The quest for non-violence begins on your plate.'
Ornelas, lauren; Gellatley, Juliet (2002). "When Pigs Cry: A Report on the USA Pig Industry" (PDF). Viva!USA. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2015-02-03. Retrieved 2015-02-02.
Piglets are very fond of play. They chase one another, play-fight, are affectionate, tumble around, and generally enjoy themselves. They do not grow into normal pigs when deprived of play.
Ornelas, lauren (2002-02-28). "Cruelty-free Diet Promoted at High Schools; Vegan Outreach, Viva! Target Students on National Day of Outreach". Viva!USA. Archived from the original on 2015-02-03. Retrieved 2015-02-02.
Vegetarian activists are reaching out to high school students with their message about the benefits of a vegetarian diet for the animals, the planet and health.
Ornelas, lauren (Summer 2003). "How to Do a Factory Farming Investigation". No Compromise (21). Archived from the original on 2014-07-21. Retrieved 2015-02-02.
Ornelas, lauren (2003-07-23). "Press Releases, 4/21/03 - 7/23/03". SavetheKangaroo.com. Viva!. Archived from the original on 2015-02-03. Retrieved 2015-02-02.
Last summer, Viva! launched an international campaign against the use of kangaroo skins by giant sports company Adidas. On May 7 of this year, Viva!USA filed a lawsuit against Adidas and three retailers for violating California Law.
Ornelas, lauren (June–July 2005). "Who Our Food Comes From". Satya. OCLC 439381064. Retrieved 2014-09-29.
All farm workers, including migrants, are some of the most exploited people in the U.S. They work from dawn to dusk, often with no breaks in the heat of the day. Workers go out into fields that are often still wet with pesticides. Unable to wash, they are forced to eat with the pesticides on their hands. Many employers fail to provide them with enough water -- or any at all.
Ornelas, lauren (February 2006). "Making Chickens Count". Satya. OCLC 439381064. Retrieved 2014-09-29.
But despite these vast numbers, it’s important to remember one thing: each of these birds is a feeling individual who endures unspeakable suffering on these farms.
Ornelas, lauren (November 2006). "A Turkey Named Taylor". Satya. OCLC 439381064. Retrieved 2014-09-29.
We both looked at each other and knew what we had to do. We didn’t have a choice. After all this turkey had been through, we had to get her out of there.
Ornelas, lauren (February 2007). "Breaking the Food Chains: Liberating the World Through the Power of Our Plate". Satya. OCLC 439381064. Retrieved 2014-09-29.
Farms run by corporations are more concentrated in poor and non-white areas than those run by independent farms. These communities bear a disproportionate share of the environmental impact of these facilities.
Ornelas, lauren (2013-02-28). "Healthy food as self-defense". Appetite for Justice. Food Empowerment Project. Retrieved 2014-10-22.
Ornelas, lauren (April 2013). "Some Pig". All-Creatures.Org. The Mary T. and Frank L. Hoffman Family Foundation. Retrieved 2014-10-14.
The first time I ever saw footage of a mother pig, in a more natural environment, making a nest for her babies, it brought me to tears realizing the frustration they must feel in farrowing crates.
Ornelas, lauren (2013-08-12). "Blackfish (The Importance of October 24th)". All-Creatures.Org. The Mary T. and Frank L. Hoffman Family Foundation. Retrieved 2014-10-22.
It is a painful movie to watch, but so necessary. Much of the pain stems from the reality of how the captivity industry has destroyed and continues to destroy families. The pain of the mother crying and searching for her baby when SeaWorld takes her away. ... There is a lot of crying in the movie -- both on the screen and in the audience.