Saturday, May 22, 2010

Interview Series #10: Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary


For those of you who may not know, Gene Baur is one of the biggest animal activist rock stars around.

In the late 1980s, after saving a sheep
who had been left on top of a pile of dead animals at the Lancaster Stockyards, Gene was so inspired by the rescue that he decided to create Farm Sanctuary with then wife Lorri Houston (who now owns Animal Acres in California). The sheep, later named Hilda, would forever impact Gene on his journey toward protecting and advocating for animals.

On Farm Sanctuary's website, there is a poignant message that simply says:

"All that Farm Sanctuary does -- from our shelters and investigative campaigns to our legal and legislative actions -- is because of Hilda, and animals like her. "

Hilda, after being rescued from the dead pile at the stockyard.

 Hilda living out a peaceful existence at Farm Sanctuary.
(Photos courtesy of Farm Sanctuary)

Hilda showed Gene that the plight of farm animals was a dire one, that people needed to wake up to the abuse and cruelty these sentient beings faced day in and day out and find proactive ways to protect them and educate the public about them. For Gene, his calling was clear - he would find a way to rescue more animals like Hilda and publicize these rescues as best as he could. What started out as a rescue mission for a single animal led to the nation's leading farm animal protection organization.  

Farm Sanctuary operates the largest rescue and refuge network in North America. In addition to rescuing farm animals, Gene Baur and Farm Sanctuary also work to educate the public about the abuses occurring on factory farms and ways they can help end these cruel practices, and campaigns for legislation and policy reforms that promote respect and compassion for farm animals. Through Gene's hard work, as well as the staff and volunteers who make up this wonderful organization, Farm Sanctuary has initiated groundbreaking prosecutions and precedent-setting litigation, and is responsible for  the passage of the first U.S. laws to prohibit inhumane factory farming practices.

Last year, I had the privilege of reading Gene's powerful book, Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food. A passage that has stayed with me all this time reads:

" Best of all, I have learned something about forgiveness. It's amazing to me that these creatures born into the cold and mechanized existence of factory farming, where the appearance of any human being only spelled more pain, could ever again bestow their trust, much less their friendship, on anyone of our species. Yet somehow they did, and it is a beautiful thing to see. If these farmed animals, after all they have been through, can still learn to respect humanity, then surely we can learn to respect them." 
  
We can all learn from Gene about what it really means to be a true animal lover. You won't find a single picture of Gene anywhere on Farm Sanctuary's website (I searched and finally found the beautiful photograph of him with two rescued sheep on the Humane Society website) - because this man is as humble as it gets. Gene's work is 100% for farm animals in need, and I am equally inspired and humbled myself to share a little bit of his story with you all today. 

Kiss Me, I'm Vegan: What was the turning point in your life that led you to veganism? Was it one huge moment, or a collective group of small moments that changed you?
 
Gene: A series of events led me to adopt a vegan lifestyle. I grew up without thinking much about the fact that I was eating animals until one day when I was struck by a chicken dinner that my mother had prepared. I saw the bird, on his or her back, with wings and legs attached, and I was turned off of eating meat. But everyone around me was eating animals, and the practice was normalized, and as time went and the memory of that dead bird faded, my meat consumption picked up again. Then, in the early 80s, as I was finishing up college, I travelled around the U.S. and became involved with various advocacy organizations. I learned about the cruelty, inefficiency and health hazards associated with animal agriculture, and decided to go vegan. 

 KMIV: What have been the greatest rewards of your vegan lifestyle? What have been the greatest challenges?
Gene: One of the greatest rewards of being vegan is living in a way that is consistent with my values. Many consumers feel uneasy about their food choices because they want to see themselves as compassionate and responsible, but they are purchasing foods that are the result of factory farming abuses and violence and out of sync with their values. A conflict between one’s values and their actions brings discomfort and dissonance. As a vegan, I feel good about my food choices and am glad that they are aligned with my values and interests. 
KMIV: What inspired you to create Farm Sanctuary?
Gene: In 1986, there was little public awareness about the severe animal cruelty, human health risks and environmental destruction caused by industrialized animal agriculture, and I felt it was important to investigate and address these matters head on. Farm Sanctuary was formed to investigate and expose our factory farming system, to change how society views and treats farm animals, and to promote healthier, more compassionate food choices. 
KMIV: What is the easiest part of running the nation's largest farm animal sanctuary? The hardest?
Gene: The easiest part of this work is visiting the animals at the Farm Sanctuaries and seeing people touched by them, and working with compassionate citizens dedicated to helping create a better world. The hardest part is the frustration associated with changing consumer habits as well as societal and political structures that perpetuate the abuses of industrialized animal agriculture. 
KMIV: What advice would you give someone who is interested in veganism, but afraid of taking the leap?   
Gene: Going vegan is getting easier and easier. Take it one meal at a time, either leaving out animal products or substituting plant-based alternatives. Be creative and explore various ethnic foods that are plant-based. If you cook, get a vegan cookbook. If you eat out, choose vegan restaurants, or restaurants with vegan options that you like. And get to know other vegans in your area who can provide advice and support. 
  
KMIV: Okay -  you're stuck on a deserted island with three vegan food items - what are they?
Gene: I’m very simple – an orange, steamed broccoli, and a dish with rice, beans, nuts and seeds….

The photographs above are of various rescued farm animals at Farm Sanctuary. They include: Billy the calf, Blossom the pig (photo credit: Connie Pugh for Farm Sanctuary), Lily the baby goat, Wendy the sheep and Ady the lamb (photo credit: Connie Pugh for Farm Sanctuary), and Wendy the hen (photo credit: Connie Pugh for Farm Sanctuary)

(Photo credit for Gene with sheep: Derek Goodwin for Farm Sanctuary.)

Special thanks to Gene Baur for taking the time out to do this interview. To learn more about these rescue stories and the work of Farm Sanctuary, or to make a donation, please visit www.farmsanctuary.org.

6 comments:

E*V said...

Thank you Kiss Me, I'm Vegan! For your beautiful, inspiring and insightful blog. I can't Thank you enough for what you are doing, and the gentle, compassionate way you are raising awareness about the importance of a vegan lifestyle, and showing people that even a small step, can make a big difference! Awareness is so important, big companies spend a lot of $$ to keep the public in the dark about what's really going on. Thank you for shedding some very important light, on very important topics, in a compassionate, loving way! Keep up the good, and important work! Keep shining!!!

CurlyLocks said...

E*V has captured the heart of your wonderful blog!

You have helped to make people aware of the important work that Gene Baur is doing. He is obviously an amazing man. I know that you organized an awesome benefit for the New York Farm Sancturies back in March, and I'm proud to be a card-carrying member of both. Readers, you should click on the link and join.

Jazz Siebert said...

I've never been to a farm sanctuary but soooo want to go to one soon. thanks so much for this awesome interview!

I love what you're doing. :)

Lindsay said...

EV - thank you so much for your beautiful, kind comment. It means so much to me! Thank you also CurlyLocks and Jazz!!

Moo Something said...

Wonderful interview. I love the story about Hilda. Gene has always been a huge inspiration!!
Thanks for all you do, Kiss Me, I'm Vegan!!

Myra Wolf said...

I am alittle surprised to click onto your blog right now and see the post about Gene. I have been looking forward to reading it.

I have few words. I loved learning about you Gene and your work. You may be humble but without a doubt a very passionate man. Only someone this passionate could have this statement.

"What started out as a rescue mission for a single animal led to the nation's leading farm animal protection organization"

love you over the moon Lindsay and Thank you Gene...xoxo