Gene Baur is an activist, best-selling author, and president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, the first animal rescue organization dedicated to farmed animals. He is vegan and has been at the forefront of animal rights since he began the Sanctuary in 1986. Baur grew up in Hollywood, California, and went to Loyola High School. He attended Cal State Northridge where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in Sociology. He paid for college in part by doing background work in television and movies, ironically including commercials for McDonald's and KFC. During high school and college, he had various jobs, including dishwasher, day laborer, bartender, and teacher, and he volunteered to help children suffering from terminal illnesses as well as abused adolescents. He also participated in the efforts of human rights, animal rights, consumer and environmental organizations. In the 1980s he began investigations into factory farms, stockyards, and slaughterhouses. Baur felt the conditions he observed were unacceptable, and these experiences helped motivate the creation of Farm Sanctuary.
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Hello reddit, I am excited to be back for another AMA.
Farm Sanctuary operates sanctuaries for rescued farm animals who are our friends, not our food.
I have written a book called Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food, and my latest book is a how-to guide called Living the Farm Sanctuary Life: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Mindfully, Living Longer, and Feeling Better Every Day.
You can follow me / Farm Sanctuary on social media at:
I'm looking forward to answering your questions today. Victoria's helping me get started. AMA.
Thank you so much everybody for your excellent questions. Wish I had more time to continue. Hope we can do this again soon!
Hi Gene! Thanks for doing another AMA! I'm part of a small Veg group in Dover Delaware. We're trying to expand and get more people interested and aware about veganism. We've done some tabling events and offered free samples. Can you give me some advice/tips on effective activism?
I think the key to being effective is connecting with other people, finding common ground and building from there. If they oppose factory farming, begin with that. Then, talk about the meaning of "humane", and how slaughter isn't really "humane".
What do you feel is the best response to "LOL bacon" types of people? It can be frustrating when it really just seems like they don't care.
Indeed, the off color humor that often surrounds these issues can be frustrating. But, it's good to remember it's often the result of people being uncomfortable and unsure of how to deal with their discomfort (and the inconsistency between their compassion and their eating dead animals). It's best to try and not get maddened by such "humor" if possible.
What advice would you give someone who wants to start their own farm sanctuary?
It's important to start slowly and not get in over your head when beginning to run a sanctuary.
I've visited Farm Sanctuary in upstate NY twice, and both times I had the chance to interact with the animals (during the tour). I even posed for selfies (felfies?) with a few of them!
Great! Come back again. It's also very good to share pictures showing people interacting with farm animals in a positive way. It presents an example and a model for others who perhaps have never considered that farm animals aren't that different than the cats and dogs that many of us live with.
How do you think that synthetic meat will change farming culture in the future?
If we can live well without causing unnecessary harm, why wouldn't we. I'm excited about the many alternatives to animal foods coming on the market.
How do you feel about Hampton Creek and the future of their sneaky veganism?
I love what Hampton Creek is doing. Providing plant based alternatives to animal foods is key to creating a more compassionate food system.
Hi Gene! Thanks for what you do. What was your aha moment when you decided to make this your life mission?
I've had many "aha" moments, and they continue. My first moment is when my grandmother told me about the cruelty of veal production when I was in high school in the late 1970s. Also, in high school, I recall seeing a dead bird that my mother had made for dinner and for the first time consciously realizing (and being upset about the fact) that I was eating dead animals. Since that time, I've continued learning and I continue trying to improve. For me, being vegan is an aspiration to live as kindly as possible, and it's an ongoing process.
do you offer any opportunity for visitors to interact with or play with the animals?
Yes! People are encouraged to visit Farm Sanctuary and to look into the eyes and connect with cows, pigs, chickens and other farm animals.
I'm actually studying animal rights organizations/activists for my dissertation! That said, I'm curious, what do you feel is the best approach in introducing the principles of animal rights to those on the outside of the movement in a face-to-face setting?
Most people say they oppose animal cruelty, and I think it's most effective to begin speaking with people from a position of common ground and build from there. The principals of "animal rights" could also be framed as principals of "human responsibility". But, however it's framed, approaching people in a friendly, attractive way - whether in person or otherwise - is important in my view. We want to attract people.
I'm sure there are a lot of lessons you have learned that could save people from having to learn again the hard way. Do you ever do any kind of mentoring for people who would like to start and grow their own Farm Sanctuary?
Yes, we do a farm animal care conference. The next one is scheduled for September, 2015 at our farm in Watkins Glen, NY.
I LOVE all animals and want to help them. For me, being veg and donating $ isnt enough.
What other ways can I help the animals?
Besides being veg and donating, you can be an ambassador for animals and a veg lifestyle. Influencing others (by example, by sharing recipes, by sharing info) is a critically important way to have a positive impact. Each person who stops eating animals saves scores every year.
Thanks! Looking forward to hearing you speak at the Philly Vegfest this weekend.
Right on! Looking forward to the Philly Vegfest this Saturday!
Do you feel that not calling it "vegan" is helping or hurting?
I think Hampton Creek is very strategic and isn't using the word "vegan" because of the baggage the term brings. For them, I believe this probably opens many doors that the term vegan might close. I also believe it's important to re-frame how the word "vegan" is perceived, and I use it along with the term "plant-based". I think advocacy groups like Farm Sanctuary are positioned to push the vegan term more than businesses like Hampton Creek, but as time goes, I believe Hampton Creek will begin using it too.
Making plant based food widely available is certainly helping. Not using the term vegan isn't really hurting, I don't think, although I would love to see that term used more, especially in a positive context.
How do industrialized farms negatively impact the communities they are in?
Industrial farms pollute and destroy rural communities. The air is thick with toxic fumes and people aren't able to go outside. Property values are diminished. And, workers at these places also suffer and need health care, which tends to be lacking because the factory farms commonly fail to pay adequate taxes to support local communities.
How do you respond to criticisms that vegan food is processed/too expensive?
Vegan food doesn't have to be processed or expensive. Eating fresh produce in season is a good way to eat healthy, and also inexpensively. Plus, beans are among the healthiest and least expensive foods around, and they're loaded with protein too. That said, the processed meatless meats can be very good transition foods for people interested in leaving meat off the plate. It's easy to use familiar recipes, and to substitute vegan "meat" for animal flesh.
I love animal sanctuaries and love what you're doing.
Ever had a problem with a guest coming to a sanctuary and a particular animal not liking that guest? I know most farm animals in sanctuary conditions are very docile and friendly, but some humans... Well, they give a bad vibe. If so, how do you deal?
Some of our animals would rather not be around people, so we give them lots of space in areas away from our visitors. The animals who like people are the ones who are in our visitor areas, and we also make sure our visitors know that they are guests in the animals' homes (and should conduct themselves as such). So, we haven't really had bad vibe problems.
What have you and Farm Sanctuary seen to be most effecitive in helping the most number of animals? Leafleting? Those pay-per-view videos other groups do? Policy & legislature? Speaking events and VegFests?
I believe all these tactics are valuable, and encourage people to do what they feel best about. Different people respond to different approaches and it's good for our message to take different forms. We need to change laws, as well as raise awareness and change the marketplace, and all these things go together. It is also important to think about the message of videos or literature, not just the form. Sometimes cruelty pictures are impactful, but they can also turn people away, so I try to use them judiciously, and also provide solutions (such as great vegan recipes). People need to feel hopeful, and empowered to make a difference.
Do you ever eat vegan "junk food" and if so what's your favourite thing to indulge in? I personally LOVE vegan doughnuts!
Yes. I must admit. I love cookies - especially chocolate chip with nuts. I also like many other sweets! I make a concerted effort to eat healthy and to have healthy food around (like fruit) to I don't go too crazy on the sweets.
Who are some of your vegan heroes? And are there any vegan social media accounts you really like?
I love that people like Cesar Chavez were vegan many years ago, and combined animal issues with other justice issues. I'm also very impressed by vegan athletes like Scott Jurek, Brendan Brazier, and Rich Roll. And, I'm moved by individuals like pig farmer Bob Comis, who gave up pig farming to go vegan. So many vegan heroes, including individuals in unsupportive families who maintain their vegan lifestyle with grace despite challenges and hostility.
Were you a resident of Delaware when you rescued Hilda?
Yes. Farm Sanctuary was started in a row house in Wilmington, DE in 1986, and that's where we took care of Hilda in the first days after her rescue from the stockyard (where she had been discarded on a pile of dead animals).
Why haven't communities fought against this type of negative impact? And why haven't these images been shared?
These communities are fighting against factory farms, but sometimes the industrial operations roll over them. The River Keepers (under Bobby Kennedy, Jr.) have been fighting factory farms in rural communities. The Pew Commission on industrial animal agriculture also produced a report that includes how rural communities suffer. There has been much opposition to these factory farms, but it is not nearly as well funded or powerful as industrial farming, and the word hasn't spread as widely as we'd like.
What are some questions one can ask to create a constructive dialogue with former vegetarians and vegans while not making them feel defensive?
I think it's very important to welcome people (including former vegetarians and vegans) to discuss these issues in an open safe environment. There are many who had been vegan who might be interested in going vegan again, and it's critical that vegan advocates do what we can to open the door and welcome people to take steps toward compassionate vegan living.
What constitutes an industrial farm, is it strictly a size definition or does every American farm follow the same practices?
Both large and small farms can be cruel and polluting, but the term industrial generally refers to larger farms, where the pollution and the cruelty tends to be greater.
Are political strategies that circumvent direct banning of animal slaughter a good idea? I am thinking of strategies like the S.A.F.E. Act versus an explicit piece of legislation that says no more horse slaughter.
Legislation is a tedious, imperfect process, and I don't think it's possible to know exactly the best way to advance our cause. In many cases, incremental legal steps are the only viable options, and they can be better than nothing.
Is there a specific species of the animals at the sanctuaries that tend to not want to be around people more than another species?
The animals are individuals. You have cows/pigs/chickens/goats/sheep/etc. who love people, and others who don't....
I live in Illinois and there do not seem to be any animal sanctuaries here. Will Farm Sanctuary ever put one in the Midwest?
Farm Sanctuary is currently keeping busy with our farms in NY and CA, but you never know what the future holds. It's possible that we might open other sanctuaries in other areas, or partner with people interested in doing so.
Which organizations do you feel could be brought in to support this movement? Do you even want to end animal slaughter?
I want to end animal slaughter, and I also want to do what I can to end cruelty now. I think it's important for animal groups to work with various other aligned interests - including health, environmental, social justice, etc...
With all due respect, I have to disagree with your last answer. Where I live (rural IL), these "industrial farms" don't destroy communities. The ones I can think of off-hand are not anywhere near a community, so the air isn't thick with toxic fumes. They also pay massive amounts of property taxes on their buildings, which stay 100% in their communities and actually lessen the tax burden to people that don't have farms. I know there are cases like the ones you've described, but please don't make blanket statements and assume this is the case with every farm. (Not a farmer, never have been - just know what I've experienced my whole life around farms)
I guess we can agree to disagree. I have lived in rural areas and also have a masters in agricultural economics. Check out the Goldschmidt Hypothesis, and the work of ag economist John Icard at U of MO.