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.

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!

 

Staying Healthy

Our friends at V-lish have an important section, Ask the Dietician, where Ginny Messina, the world’s leading V-licious Registered Dietician, answers readers’ questions. Her recent post is about meeting nutritional needs while following a compassionate diet:

If you’re leaning toward a more plant-based diet, you might feel a little uncertain about meeting your nutrient needs. Don’t worry – you can get everything you need from a V-licious diet. But if it’s new territory for you, these seven guidelines can help.

1. Eat at least three servings per day of legumes. This is a big food group that includes not just beans, but also peanuts and peanut butter, tofu, soymilk, and all types of veggie meats (including burgers, hot dogs, sausages, and chick’n nuggets). These foods will ensure that you get plenty of protein without any extra effort.

2. Eat at least eight servings per day of fruits and vegetables. Include dark green leafy vegetables and bright orange vegetables for vitamin A and plenty of vitamin C-rich choices such as oranges, strawberries, broccoli, peppers, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. When you’re in a hurry, use frozen or canned vegetables — they’re just as good for you.

3. Emphasize whole grains over refined ones, and if you like them, include some whole-grain bread and sprouted grains in meals. They are especially good sources of the minerals iron and zinc.

4. Include healthy fats in your diet. Nuts and seeds can help you meet needs for zinc while also lowering your risk for heart disease. Make sure you’re getting enough of the essential omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) by eating a small serving of ground flaxseeds, walnuts, or canola oil every day.

5. Meet calcium needs by choosing calcium-rich veggies (kale, collards, turnip greens, bok choy), calcium-set tofu, soy nuts, tempeh, fortified plant milks or yogurt, fortified juice, dried figs, almonds, or tahini.

6. Take appropriate supplements. As you move toward a mostly or completely V-licious diet, you’ll need 25 to 100 micrograms of vitamin B12 every day (choose the cyanocobalamin form of this vitamin). If you don’t get plenty of sun exposure (without sunscreen), take a vitamin D supplement. And if you don’t use a few shakes of iodized salt on your food every day, a supplement of iodine can be a good idea.

7. Keep the focus on whole plant foods, but leave room for convenience and treats. Some gently processed foods can help you meet nutrient needs and make your healthy, compassionate diet easier to stick with for the long term.

For more on meeting nutrient needs with ease, see my Plant Plate food guide.

Faith in Change

-Gene Baur

Throughout recorded history, religious institutions have grappled with major ethical matters while addressing fundamental questions about our place in the universe. Religious and spiritual leaders are seen as moral authorities and have been an influential force, sometimes defending the status quo and sometimes ushering in new understandings and change.

Members of the religious community are often at the center of highly charged debates when existing world views are challenged. Different religious leaders, each citing the divine, have taken opposing positions on contentious topics. Incendiary rhetoric can ensue, as was the case when slavery was debated in the U.S. Congress in the mid-1800s. In his book, Arguing About Slavery, William Lee Miller outlines how anti-slavery activists were demonized: “Who were these foul murderers, bloodhounds, incendiaries, agitators, instigators of midnight murder? These disturbers of our peace and enemies of our lives and liberties? These cold-hearted, base, malignant libelers and calumniators? These knowing accessories to murder, robbery, rape, and infanticide? In short, who were these fiends of hell? Churchwomen, mostly. Churchwomen and preachers, and Quakers, and a few teachers and lawyers and journalists – a powerless and marginal handful of practitioners of a new sort of reform.” (p. 65) These churchwomen and their cohorts took the side of the exploited against the powerful, and ultimately succeeded in changing people’s hearts and minds.

The positions and teachings of religious and faith-based organizations evolve over time and they reflect changes in our society which occur when injustice and cruelty are called out and challenged. For years, the factory farming industry has perpetrated various misdeeds, hidden from public view. It treats animals like inanimate commodities to be exploited, and most citizens have unwittingly supported this systemic abuse by purchasing meat, milk, and eggs. But with increasing awareness about factory farming, we are now in the midst of a burgeoning food movement. People oppose animal cruelty and they are seeking to make choices that are better aligned with their values.

As citizens wrestle with moral questions surrounding our food choices, the religious community will be engaged. If you are involved with a faith-based group, please consider raising these concerns for deeper discussion. Our relationship with other animals is an important moral issue, and it is time for the abomination of factory farming to become a thing of the past.

It’s Not What You Say, It’s What They Hear

wtwFrank Luntz is the conservative wordsmith behind some of the most successful Republican politicians and movements of the modern era. His book Words That Work (subtitled It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear) is an excellent lesson on how to shape language that actually influences people, while avoiding common traps that undermine our efforts at communication.

His top ten rules are:

  1. Simplicity: Use Small Words
  2. Brevity: Use Short Sentences
  3. Credibility Is as Important as Philosophy
  4. Consistency Matters
  5. Novelty: Offer Something New
  6. Sound and Texture Matter
  7. Speak Aspirationally
  8. Visualize
  9. Ask a Question
  10. Provide Context and Explain Relevance

 

This is in no way a perfect book (as examined here), but a very interesting one, replete with stories and examples. The book’s subtitle alone is one of the most important lessons that advocates can learn. Here is a fuller review, if you’d like a more extensive exploration of the ideas without (or before) reading the whole book.

 

An Updated “How To Win Friends”

NeverSplitDale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People is a classic, and absolutely required reading for anyone who wants to make the world a better place.

A new book – Never Split the Difference, by Christopher Voss and Tahl Raz – picks up where Carnegie left off. Ostensibly a book about negotiation, it really is a book about dealing with others – how to read them, listen to them, and discern and understand their motivations.

While the entire book is interesting (also check out his organization’s blog), with lessons framed in the context of various negotiations, I found these excerpts to be particularly insightful for anyone who wants to open another person’s heart and mind to new ideas and possibilities:

[W]ithout a deep understanding of human psychology, without the acceptance that we are all crazy, irrational, impulsive, emotionally-driven animals, all the raw intelligence and mathematical logic in the world is little help in the fraught, shifting interplay of two people negotiating.

Tactical empathy is understanding the feelings and mindset of another in the moment, and also hearing what is behind those feelings so you increase your influence in all the moments that follow. It’s bringing our attention to both the emotional obstacles and the potential pathways to getting an agreement done.

It’s emotional intelligence on steroids.

[T]he Behavioral Change Stairway Model (BCSM) … proposes five stages – active listening, empathy, rapport, influence, and behavioral change – that take any negotiator from listening to influencing behavior.

[A]s cardiologists know all too well, you more than likely haven’t gotten there yet if what you’re hearing is the word “yes” … the sweetest two words … are actually “That’s right.”

[W]hile innocent and understandable, thinking you’re normal is one of the most damaging assumptions in negotiations. With it, we unconsciously project our own style on the other side. [T]here’s a [big] chance your counterpart has a different style than yours. A different ”normal.”

[T]he Golden rule is wrong. The Black Swan rule is: don’t treat others the way you want to be treated; treat them the way they need to be treated.

 

Lessons from Sales and Marketing

We are always looking for the best insights to help Farm Sanctuary’s members make a difference for farm animals in the real world. Perhaps the most powerful thing each of us can do is to help new people open their hearts and minds to the plight of chickens, pigs, turkeys, and cows. The sooner people recognize that these individuals are friends not food, the sooner we will end the horrors of factory farms.

To that end, we are happy to bring you this blog post by Tobias Leenaert. We hope you find it useful!

Whether we like it or not, if we really want to change the world, have to be in the business of selling something. We want to sell a message, a habit, a lifestyle… whatever you want to call it. We are idea merchants, and we need to get as many people as we can on our bandwagon, in whatever ways that are helpful.

I love to read out of the box and see if I can apply ideas from different domains to our efforts. Here are some concepts and lessons I’ve taken from sales and marketing.

The customer is king
People who currently eat animals are the people we want to reach and become part of our team. Since this is the case, we can’t alienate them. They are our future allies. Badmouthing them will usually not motivate them to come closer to us. If we’re angry at them, if we accuse them or judge them, that’s kind of equal to giving up on them joining our team. Rather, like with customers, we need to listen to them, treat them like royalty, give them a cookie or bake them a delicious cruelty-free pie.

You are not your audience
You are not the same as the people you want to reach. Like a car salesperson, you have to adapt your message to what you think people like, are interested in, are open to, are ready for. Just talking about what you want to talk about is equal to the car salesperson talking endlessly about a fancy, expensive sportscar’s horsepower or technical abilities (because that is what fascinates them) to a young parent who is only interested in the safety aspects of a family vehicle.

Reaching new people has to be about your audience’s needs, not your own.

Diffusion of innovation
We need to segment our “customers” into different categories. Innovators have different reasons for picking something up than the late majority. As animal advocates, we’re all innovators, and the arguments that worked for us will not necessarily work for people who are, in this domain, laggards. The famous marketer Seth Godin puts it like this: “The mistake idea merchants make is that they bring their fringe ideas to people who don’t like fringe ideas, instead of taking their time and working their way through the progression.”

What Godin and others are saying is that we should meet people where they are, and appeal to the values that they already cherish, rather than telling them which values they should have.

Winning an argument is losing a customer
Even if the other person tells you that you are right, you haven’t necessarily had a positive impact. When the other person feels they’ve lost, it may make them feel even less sympathetic towards you or the cause you defend. Benjamin Franklin said it like this: “If you argue and rankle and contradict, you may achieve a victory sometimes; but it will be an empty victory because you will never get your opponent’s good will.” Dale Carnegie said it even simpler: “You can’t win an argument”.

Persuasion resistance
Most people don’t like to be convinced by others and don’t like being told what to do. Also, with regard to the food that’s on their plate, they’ll decide for themselves. They need no government regulations or animal rights or vegetarian groups preaching to them about what to eat, and what not, how much of it, or how they should prepare it. They’ll make up their own minds about all that, thank you very much. It is, therefore, more productive if we don’t give people the impression we want to persuade them of something, and instead help them come to their own conclusions.

Customer retention
Finding new customers is a lot more expensive than trying to keep customers and make sure they buy again. In our domain, research shows that a large number of vegetarians and vegans – no less than 84% – at some point drop out. We should have enough attention for customer retention, and make sure that as few slide off the wagon as possible. We can do that, among other things, by creating communities, making our team more welcoming, and paying enough attention for nutritional pitfalls.

Switching costs
Many people care about animals, but are afraid of the practical consequences of caring about them. It is, in other words, too difficult to make the switch. Switching costs, in marketing terms, are the costs that one incurs when changing products, suppliers, brands, etc. These costs can be financial, but they can also be, for example, time costs or psychological costs. Phone or insurance companies, for instance, want to make switching to their product as little of a hassle as possible (while at the same time, trying to make switching away from their products as difficult as possible.). Likewise, we need to make it as easy as possible for people to adopt the habits of compassion. Preferably, so easy that they don’t even need any reason or motivation.

tobiasl

Modest Organic Farm Animal Welfare Standards Draw Ire of Agribusiness

Gene_Baur_1-Gene Baur

In one of its final actions under the Obama Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) finalized a rule updating standards to improve farm animal welfare in organic production. While it is encouraging to see the USDA addressing growing popular concerns about the suffering of farm animals, these new guidelines, like most legislation or regulations protecting farm animal welfare, leave much to be desired.

The final organic rule was supported by mainstream animal protection groups and organic producers, and it was opposed by agribusinesses and lawmakers in Washington, D.C. who represent factory farming interests. In response to the final rule, House Agriculture Committee Chairman, K. Michael Conaway (R-TX), said: “I am disappointed to see yet another controversial rule pushed through during the final hours of the Obama administration. Not only do animal welfare standards go beyond the scope of the National Organic Program… I hope that the incoming Administration will immediately withdraw this rule…”

The updated animal welfare standards sought to better align organic production methods with the expectations of consumers who believe organic farmers take good care of their animals. Sadly, animals who are raised and sold as organic typically live in factory farm conditions. They are seen primarily as production units, and as the organic market has grown, organic farming has become increasingly industrialized. Organically raised farm animals are routinely overcrowded and subjected to inhumane treatment.

Among the improvements made in the updated standards is an explicit prohibition on the practice of starvation-induced forced molting, which shocks the bodies of egg-laying hens into a new egg production cycle. The updated standards also more clearly specify that organically raised farm animals are to be provided access to the outdoors, and they require that sick and injured animals, including “downed animals,” be given necessary medical treatment. It mandates, “Any non-ambulatory livestock on organic farms must be medically treated, even if the treatment causes the livestock to lose organic status or be humanely euthanized.” Farm Sanctuary has advocated this approach for decades, and we believe it should apply to farms beyond those certified as organic.

The new standards restrict some routine mutilations, including tail docking of dairy cows, and they limit other mutilations, such as the “debeaking” of chickens. But “beak trimming,” where up to one-third of the bird’s beak is removed is allowed. (If more than one-third of the beak is removed, it is classified as “debeaking” and prohibited.) The standards prohibit “toe trimming,” but allow “toe clipping,” where the nail and distal joint of chickens and turkeys toes can be removed. All of these painful alterations of birds’ beaks and toes can be performed without pain relief.

The organic rule, like so many other policies, laws and regulations pertaining to farm animals, grants only minimal protections, and ultimately, animals raised for organic certification, like other animals exploited for food, are treated more like commodities than like living feeling animals like. The updated organic rule limits some of the abuses routinely endured by farm animals, but it still places commercial interests above ethical considerations.

The good news is that U.S. consumers are paying attention to how their food is produced. They are troubled by the suffering of animals exploited on factory farms, and they are looking for alternatives. The demand for products labeled as humane, sustainable, natural, free-range, cage-free, organic, etc. is growing, but unfortunately, these claims almost always sound better than they are, and consumers are being misled.

100% Plant-Powered!

100% Plant-Powered!

Of course, the best way to avoid causing unnecessary animal suffering is to eat delicious plant-based foods instead of animals!

 

First, Do No Harm

2011-01-13-farmsanctuaryjune10606

Continuing to revisit previous posts from Gene, we go back to January 2011 to review the place of veterinarians in working to help farm animals:


A 2010 Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) published an article  announced: “Veterinarian’s Oath revised to emphasize animal welfare commitment: Prevention of animal suffering also a key addition.” The updated oath, which was adopted despite stiff opposition within the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), reads as follows with additions in italics:

“Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.”

For decades, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has upheld the status quo and defended cruel factory farming practices, including intensive confinement systems like veal crates, gestation crates, and battery cages. In 2002, as Florida’s voters pondered whether to become the first U.S. state to outlaw gestation crates, the AVMA adopted a formal position statement endorsing these 2-foot-wide metal enclosures to confine breeding sows. Thankfully, voters rejected the AVMA’s antiquated position, and gestation crates are now illegal in Florida.

After the Florida vote, Farm Sanctuary pressured the AVMA to rethink their policies on several issues and we conducted a survey of veterinarians across the U.S., which found that more than 80% considered gestation crates and other cruel farming practices to be objectionable. In response, AVMA started refining some of their positions, including the adoption of a policy against the tail docking of dairy cows. Still, despite these positive reforms, the AVMA maintains close ties to the factory farming industry, and it continues to defend practices that most citizens and veterinarians consider to be outside the bounds of acceptable conduct.

The AVMA’s decision to update the veterinary oath is a positive step, and it is a reflection of a more humane attitude that is emerging within the veterinary profession, especially as new veterinarians, many of them women take up the vocation. Explicitly recognizing the importance of protecting animal welfare and preventing animal suffering represents important progress. As veterinarians come to take this oath seriously, and as they begin applying it in the real world, the days of factory farming will be numbered.

 

Megan Watkins, Hero of Compassion

We are thrilled to continue to recognize Heroes of Compassion, people who are working tirelessly behind the scenes to help animals and make the world a more compassionate place.

farm-sanctuary

Today, we honor Megan Watkins. Megan joined the Farm Sanctuary Board of Directors in 2009 and has served as Chair, as well as on the Development and Executive committees.  Megan is the National Practice Executive for Foundations & Grantmaking at U.S. Trust.  She leads the practice area dedicated to helping individuals and families, as well as boards of directors and trustees, to maximize their impact in the charitable sector.  This includes educating and advising her clients on a number of topics related to philanthropic giving, including how to select the most appropriate charitable giving vehicle, identifying and articulating a philanthropic vision and mission, engaging family and/or board members in philanthropy, and the many nuances involved in starting and operating a strategic giving program.  Prior to joining U.S. Trust, Megan served as Philanthropic Advisor and Program Officer in the Philanthropic Services Group at J.P. Morgan Private Bank, where she facilitated giving in the areas of animal rights and welfare, affordable housing, human services, workforce development and youth development.  Megan’s additional nonprofit and policy activities include roles with ACCION New York, World Neighbors Nepal, and the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.  Megan holds a Master of International Affairs degree from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Latin American Studies from Barnard College.

Here is my conversation with Megan.

What does the phrase “living compassionately” mean to you? What inspired you to start down this path?

To me, living compassionately means living in a way that causes the least amount of suffering to those around you.  It means listening, being thoughtful, and showing care and concern in the decisions you make and the actions you take.  I would say that I started down this path fairly early in life, having been raised by a mother who was incredibly community- and service-oriented, even given limited time and income.  She was the first to teach my sisters and me that everyone’s voice mattered and that everyone should be heard.  She also showed us that it was important to keep our door open, to the people and the animals who needed our help.

It wasn’t until later in my life when I began to fully grasp the plight of farm animals and the conflict that existed between my values and my diet.  I absolutely attribute this awakening to the animals residing at Farm Sanctuary.  I had taken a trip up to Watkins Glen with my husband and a group of close friends.  Unsure of what to expect when stepping onto the property, I suddenly found myself sitting on the ground, looking into the eyes of the animals, and knowing that I was about to make a change that would impact the rest of my life.

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

My sister, my husband and I all transitioned to a vegan diet on the same day several years ago.  This was incredibly helpful to all of us, as we made our way through cleaning out kitchen cabinets, restocking ingredients and comparing recipes.  While I would say that we were all on a learning curve for the first year, we kept moving forward and soon found ourselves planning trips based on nearby vegan restaurants, or on Facetime “SOS” calls when our recipes were a flop.  If I had one tip, it would be to find a community.  Whether that is just a friend to join you, or an established group like Farm Sanctuary, every transition is easier when not alone (and you are definitely not alone on this one!).

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

img_6177Speaking very personally, when I first became involved with Farm Sanctuary, I felt a bit like an outsider breaking into a very tight community.  I was newly vegan and, while familiar with the issues facing farm animals, hadn’t participated in the animal rights movement at such depths.  My experiences and motivations may have been questioned at times, which initially left me feeling somehow not vegan enough, or maybe not activist enough.  Interestingly, and perhaps ironically, I now find myself on the other side of this, struggling to be patient with those who haven’t made similar transitions in their own lives.  And then I remember, as Gene wisely points out, that we are most successful when we are able to meet people where they are.  Just like he met me where I was, once upon a time.

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?              

Before I became involved with Farm Sanctuary, I actually used to lie awake, unable to shake images of animal cruelty.  I would have tears in my eyes, and would just stare at the ceiling.  I felt helpless, like the issue was too big and I was too small.  When I began spending time taking action on behalf of farm animals, when I sat with them in their own environment, I was finally able to breathe.  So my advice to anyone feeling helpless – activate.  Get even closer to the issue.  Become part of a community that cares and that is taking action on behalf of these incredible souls.

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

Many years ago, I attended an animal welfare philanthropy conference where Gene participated on a panel.  He spoke early, maybe first, in a soft tone, telling stories of individual animals and allowing us to picture the beauty of what happens when farm animals find sanctuary.  He was followed by two or three other speakers, I honestly don’t remember, as I needed to leave the room.  When the next speaker began, and the horrifying images started to hit the screen, it was too much for me to process.  I waited outside in the hallway, listening, but not watching.  That was probably the first time that I thought seriously about needing to engage in some level of work on behalf of farm animals.  And while I absolutely acknowledge the impact that those other speakers and images had on me, it was Gene’s focus on the animals as individuals and ambassadors that truly spoke to me.

Has there been a specific animal who was special to you?

That’s easy – Snickers [lead photo of interview].  Snickers steer was the first resident of Farm Sanctuary to welcome me to the farm.  I treasure my picture with this amazing ambassador, he was an incredibly gentle soul and will forever be my reminder of my awakening to the plight of farm animals.

Do you have a favorite resident at one of the sanctuaries, and/or do you have a special affinity for a certain species of farm animal?

I can honestly say that I love every one of the Farm residents, even the bull who MAY have chased Susie and me over a fence one blazing hot afternoon.

image1If I were to pick … I really love goats.  I would live among the goats, with the full understanding that my pockets would be picked and my coat sleeves chewed until eternity.

What is your cookbook or recipe?

I am a huge fan of Terry Walters and the Clean Food cookbook.  Her lentil soup recipe is amazing!  My sister and I had the pleasure of joining her for a clean food cooking/yoga weekend and everything was plant-based, gluten free and pure awesome.