Living the Vegan Dream on a Farm Sanctuary

Longtime animal activist Gene Baur talks policy change, Portland vegans, and his new cookbook, Living the Farm Sanctuary Life.

By Tuck Woodstock April 8, 2015

Vegan activist Gene Baur has spent the last three decades campaigning tirelessly against the abuses of industrialized factory farming. Baur also co-founded the nation's first farm animal sanctuary; his shelters now provide lifelong care for 1,000 animals rescued from slaughterhouses, stockyards, and factory farms. Celebrities from Jackass’s Steve-O to Twitter co-founder Biz Stone have gone vegan after life-changing visits to a Farm Sanctuary in California or New York.

In Living the Farm Sanctuary Life: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Mindfully, Living Longer, and Feeling Better Every Day, Baur details the five tenets of Farm Sanctuary living—which outline veganism’s impact on animals, physical and emotional health, and the environment—and explores topics from cruelty-free fashion to more than 100 mouthwatering plant-based recipes (think peanut tequila mole tamales and pumpkin pie crème brulee). The book is also packed with heartwarming animal stories and photos guaranteed to have you scrambling to schedule a farm sanctuary visit. We chatted with Baur mere minutes before his Daily Show interview (!) to discuss the future of veganism and much more.

You’ve been an activist for many years and worked on many important campaigns. Do you have a proudest achievement as an activist?

Baur: I think Proposition 2, which passed in California in 2008, is the most significant policy achievement. It was a ballot measure to outlaw certain cruel farming practices. [Ed. Note: Prop 2 requires that veal calves, laying hens and pregnant sows have room to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely.] Getting that on the ballot in the largest agricultural state in the U.S. was significant, and it sent repercussions in the industry that are still reverberating today. 

The front page of the Huffington Post yesterday was about how a federal panel had recommended a plant-based diet. Did you see that?

I sure did. It’s very encouraging that we have this federal advisory council now speaking explicitly about the importance of reducing our consumption of animal products, not only for our own health, but for the well-being of the planet. That is a very important and positive development.

Courtesy Farm Sanctuary

Some vegans worry about veganism becoming a fad diet over an ethical lifestyle. Do you have any response to that?

The vegan movement is growing and expanding into new communities. Some people come to this through health, and if these ethical issues are brought up, they’re much more open to hearing them if they’re not eating animals. Whatever gets somebody to not support animal exploitation is positive.

Honestly, I think sometimes we can be a little bit parochial, saying, “People need to think the way I think or else it’s not right.” It’s okay for there to be different opinions. I think there’s a place for tolerance and for intolerance. We do not tolerate abuse, but we cannot be so intolerant that we push people away.

What have you found to be the most effective way to ease people into examining the way animals are being treated, and the environmental impact and health impact of their diets, without making them feel threatened?

I think showing people how great vegan food is, is a very good way to start bringing them along. So often, people assume that change is hard and the food isn’t tasty, but change is not that hard and the food can be amazing.

Courtesy Farm Sanctuary

Speaking of which, Portland is known as a vegan mecca. Have you spent much time here? Anything stand out?

I spent a good part of this January and February in Portland, and really loved not only the vegan businesses, but many of the non-vegan businesses who had vegan food readily available. I’m not as big a foodie as I wish I was, but—what’s that one, it’s not named Mushroom—Portobello! I had a really nice dinner there.

Do you have any advice for Portlanders like me who read the book and thought, “I need to get to a farm sanctuary immediately?”

I think there’s one not too far from Portland. These things are popping up in various parts of the country now. (Ed. Note: Wildwood Farm Sanctuary in Newberg, Green Acres Farm Sanctuary in Silverton, and Out to Pasture Sanctuary in Estacada are all less than an hour’s drive from Portland.)

Is there an animal in particular that tends to surprise people when they visit Farm Sanctuary?

Turkeys probably are the ones that have the biggest impact on people because they have been so publically denigrated over the years. But turkeys are very friendly and companionable and like to hang out with people. They will follow you around the farm.

Courtesy Farm Sanctuary

Learn more from Gene Baur at Powell’s City of Books on Sunday, April 12 at 7:30 PM.

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