Gene on Ending the Cycle of Violence

We continue to revisit Gene Baur’s writings from the past decades. This article, from early 2011, remains as relevant and insightful today as it was then.

In addition to the meat, dairy, and egg recalls and exposés of factory farming cruelty that made national news in 2010, a number of other headlines appeared in agribusiness trade publications that weren’t so widely circulated in the public eye.

On the last day of 2010, Meatingplace.com (an online meat industry site) published their top 10 most-read news stories of the year. The list included articles with the following titles:

• Bomb found in employee locker at Hormel plant
• Man dies after fall at Cargill beef plant
• Morrell to close Sioux City plant; 1,450 lose jobs
• Pope paints a bleak picture for future of meat industry
• Smithfield stock leaps on takeover rumor
• Texas meat company apparently closes doors
• Tyson production shifts to eliminate hundreds of jobs
• USDA halts operations at Tyson plant
• Worker killed at Wis. beef plant
• Worker loses legs in meat grinder accident

These examples indicate just how dangerous and violent work in the meat industry can be, with two worker deaths, one worker who lost his legs in a meat grinder, and one who had a bomb in his locker. But as tragic and dramatic as these events are, the chronic misery and widespread suffering wrought by animal agriculture goes much further. Billions of animals suffer intolerable abuse and untimely deaths every year, while millions of Americans experience debilitating and preventable health problems (and premature deaths) related to the excessive consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs.


We are what we eat, and our food choices have profound consequences for animals, ourselves, and the environment. As George Bernard Shaw once said, “While we ourselves are the living graves of murdered beasts, how can we expect any ideal conditions on this earth?” And as Pythagorus observed thousands of years ago, “For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.” Such wisdom speaks to the fact that violence only leads to more violence. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Fortunately, we all have the chance to live better simply by choosing to eat plants instead of animals.

For Sparrow’s Sake, Give People What They Want

One of the most common questions I’ve gotten over the past 30 years is how to convince a loved one – often, a spouse – to go vegan. It is a difficult question, and I’ve struggled to find a satisfactory answer.

Today, though, it is much easier to answer this question. The key is to change the issue from “How do I get my partner to believe what I do?” to “How can my partner’s diet cause less harm?”

One mistake I made early on was to think that exactly what I ate was the only thing worth promoting. Spicy Thai dishes, vegetable-stuffed peppers, quinoa and mung beans – making extended family eat meals like these led to upset stomachs, resentment, and an even worse opinion of vegans and veganism than they had already.

Contrast this with friends who didn’t care about pushing personal philosophy, but simply focused on having their family members eat fewer animals. For example, we have friends who make their family’s Taco Tuesday meals with Gimme Lean Ground Beef. No one has ever noticed the change – except, of course, the cows who haven’t been killed.

Currently, many people have a negative view of vegans and veganism. Sadly, this is partially because some of us are like I was – pushing vegan food that others might find “weird” and “unsatisfying,” convincing many people that veganism is a horrible deprivation.

Humans have been programmed by evolution to want fatty and high-protein foods. Instead of pontificating about the dangers of fat and the protein content of broccoli, we should recognize that basically no one eats meat because they want animals to suffer. They simply want familiar, tasty, satisfying foods.

We are extremely fortunate to live in a time when we have the ability to put aside our personal preferences and simply give people what they want! I have seen this work, over and over and over.

For example, I was once working with MBA students at the University of Arizona on marketing research into attitudes about vegetarianism / veganism. After preliminary research, they created categories for individuals; one category was “hard core meat eater, will never consider changing.” On the last day of the research project, the owner of the local veg restaurant brought in “chicken fingers.” One of the students who had listed himself as “hard core / never change” exclaimed, with genuine surprise, “Hey, I could eat this!”

100% Plant-Powered!

Ellen, our lifelong-vegan offspring, would take Boca chicken nuggets to events in high school. These nuggets – never labeled “vegetarian” – were always scarfed down immediately. Once, a Science Olympiad teammate saw Ellen eating a nugget and exclaimed in shock, “Ellen! You’re eating meat!!” They couldn’t believe the nuggets were entirely plant-based.

So if you live with a meat eater, don’t try to convince them to “go vegan.” Just feed them what they want! If they don’t like Gardein’s Ultimate Beefless Burger, try the Beyond Burger. If they don’t like Beyond’s chicken strips, grab Tofurky’s! Tofurky’s sausage not a hit? Try Field Roast’s next. And I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like Gimme Lean’s sausage or Tofurky’s deli slices. There are so many “roasts” out there that you’re sure to find one everyone loves! My homemade seitan and gravy has satisfied the holiday demands of hard-core meat eaters, leaving everyone happy – especially the animals!


In the end, it is easier to agree on food first, and worry about details like philosophy and purity later. Individuals like Sparrow and Frank and Emily only care about the bottom line – that people aren’t eating animals, regardless of their reasons.

-Matt Ball
Director of Engagement and Outreach

Michelle Cehn, Hero of Compassion

We are thrilled to have Michelle Cehn as our latest Hero of Compassion.

Michelle is a filmmaker on a mission to make vegan living easy, accessible, and fun through online media and visual storytelling. She is the founder of World of Vegan, co-author of The Friendly Vegan Cookbook, co-creator of The Dairy Detox, and a YouTube personality who has reached millions through her creative, relatable, and engaging vegan videos.

What does the term “living compassionately” mean to you?

In my eyes, living compassionately means being conscious of how my actions affect others, and using this awareness to make kind choices that are aligned with my values.

What inspired you to start down this path?

I have always had a strong sense of compassion for animals, which led me to where I’m at today.

When I was just 8 years old, I stopped eating meat because I realized animals had to die to produce it. Soon after, I learned about factory farming and became an activist. I founded animal rights groups at my high school and college, gave speeches about our treatment of animals, distributed literature, raised money for nonprofits, and more. And when I serendipitously stumbled upon the book Animal Liberation by Peter Singer while I was in college, I learned about the horrors of the dairy and egg industries and became vegan. That was 10 years ago.

What was the transition like for you, and what did you learn that might be useful to people currently trying to make changes?

I’ve always been committed to upholding my ethics, so when I learned that, even as a vegetarian, my food choices were harming animals, I committed to going vegan.

I assumed this would mean massive sacrifice, limited (and bland) food choices, and even more eye rolls from my family and friends. But after a brief adjustment period, I discovered that vegan food was both abundant and delicious. My palate began to expand, and I found myself enjoying a more varied (and healthy) diet than ever before. And as a longtime vegetarian, I was used to the eye rolls and snide comments at the dinner table, so those bounced right off me.

The biggest obstacle to going vegan for me was my own mind. I assumed it would be hard. I assumed it would be unhealthy. I assumed it would be a sacrifice. As it turned out, none of that was true! All of these thoughts were holding me back from living in alignment with my values.

My advice to others interested in going vegan is to just do it! Let go of any expectations of perfection, because we live in an imperfect world. Approach it with a sense of exploration. Try new foods, visit new grocery stores, read books and blogs, invest in vegan cookbooks, watch videos and documentaries, connect with other vegans online, attend events and VegFests, and visit farm animal sanctuaries like Farm Sanctuary. Attitude is everything, so approach it with enthusiasm and enjoy the journey!

What has been most challenging and/or surprising about living a compassionate life?

The most challenging part of living a compassionate life is being aware of the needless cruelty going on in our world. As I opened my eyes and my heart to the atrocities carried out by our species, little pieces of my heart began to break. Luckily, each one of us has the power to make an impact, prevent suffering, and better our world.

What advice / tips would you give to people who find it hard to cope with living in a world where the vast majority of people eat meat and so many farm animals are suffering and dying every day?

It’s not easy, but do your best to focus on the positive. Focus on what you can do (leaflet at your local college, bring vegan cupcakes to work, donate to Farm Sanctuary) rather than what you can’t do. Think about the incredible waves of change we’re seeing in our society, and remember that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. And when you’re feeling particularly down, plan a trip to Farm Sanctuary, where you can heal your heart by spending time with the individuals who you helped save.

What advice would you give to an aspiring activist?

When I first became an activist, I followed traditional paths of animal advocacy such as attending protests and demonstrations. But this wasn’t making the best use of my personal skills and talents. Today, my advocacy looks much different and more in line with my passions — filmmaking, photography, and social media.

Take what you already love to do and think about how you can apply those interests and professions to your advocacy. Whether you’re an artist, teacher, lawyer, scientist, or anything else, I’m sure your specific skill set is needed in the animal advocacy world. Plus, you’ll be much less likely to suffer from “activist burnout” if you’re choosing forms of activism that you love.

And finally, don’t underestimate your power and influence. With small everyday actions, we each have the power to save thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of lives.

How did you learn about Farm Sanctuary, and why (and/or how) did you get involved?

Soon after becoming vegan in college, my friend and activism mentor Jen Kaden told me about Farm Sanctuary and encouraged me to attend the 2008 Farm Sanctuary Hoe Down event. It was the first vegan event I ever attended and I had the most amazing time. It was also my first time coming face-to-face with a cow — now my favorite of all animals! Since that weekend, I’ve been a die-hard fan of Farm Sanctuary.

Do you have a favorite resident at one of the sanctuaries?

There will always be a special place in my heart for Emma, a baby cow who was hit by a car and left to die. Farm Sanctuary came to her rescue and brought her to a veterinary clinic, where she had to have her broken and infected leg amputated. She was at the vet for five long months before she was able to come home to Farm Sanctuary.

Farm Sanctuary invited me to come film Emma’s journey home, and watching her take her first steps out of the van and victoriously hop toward the cows and human friends waiting for her, remains one of my fondest memories. You can see that video here.

How do you think things will change over the next 50 years or so?

I am incredibly optimistic about the future, and here’s why. I believe a much kinder world is coming, and how soon we get there is all up to us.

What is your favorite “main dish” recipe or meal? Dessert?

My go-to recipe for a filling, delicious vegan meal is this homemade Pad Thai. I’ve always loved ordering Pad Thai at restaurants, but I assumed it would be too complex to make at home. This recipe makes it easy! And for dessert, I love making these simple no-bake cookies.

Is there anything else you would like the Farm Sanctuary family to know? / Do you have a favorite website you would like to share?

If you’re not yet vegan, I hope you’ll watch this video. And if you are vegan I hope you’ll share it!

 

Every Day is Animal Advocacy Day for Matt Ball

For Animal Advocacy Day, Animals of Farm Sanctuary ran this profile of Matt Ball, our Director of Engagement and Outreach. You’ll want to read the full piece, for more like this:

Matt feels privileged that he can devote as much time as possible to the issues he holds dear. “[Farm Sanctuary CEO Harry P. “Hank” Lynch] made the comment, ‘Matt, most people don’t have the opportunity we have, to be able to work for animals.’ This is really insightful: we are really incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity, and I want to make the most of it.”

“There is something truly wonderful about getting to know individuals like ValentinoEmily, and Lucie. It makes our choices and our opportunity to advocate for these animals less abstract, more concrete. For me, at least, spending time with these individuals leaves me energized and even more motivated to change the world, to build a society where individuals like Frank and Ellen are no longer our job, but simply our friends.”