First, Do No Harm

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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.

 

30, Looking Back at 25’s Just Eats Tour

As most of you know, this is Farm Sanctuary’s 30th Anniversary. To celebrate as part of the Gala this month in Los Angeles, Gene’s old VW van has come out of retirement. Attendees can step right up and order a veggie dog celebrating this blast from the past.

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Gene previously had the van out for a tour following our 25th Anniversary. Here, we bring you his excerpts from his notes from that “Just Eats” cross-country tour five years ago:

Starting at Farm Sanctuary’s 25th Anniversary Gala, I’ve been on the Just Eats Tour, driving the original 1977 VW van that launched Farm Sanctuary in 1986 across the U.S. to celebrate our 25th anniversary and to explore vegan America.

Ib7f9uo6cqaan1bdn this van, we rescued our first animal, Hilda, a downed sheep who had been left on a pile of dead animals behind Lancaster Stockyards in Pennsylvania. In the early days of Farm Sanctuary, we also raised funds to support our work by selling veggie hot dogs out of this van at Grateful Dead concerts. Getting the old VW on the road again has been a blast, and we’re meeting so many amazing people along the way. We’ve found vegan food and vegan advocates in every corner of the country, in both rural and urban settings.

The factory farming industry is deeply entrenched in our food culture and economic system, but change is afoot. More and more consumers are seeking to reconnect with the sources of their food and to eat well, impulses that inevitably lead to a rejection of factory farming. An entrepreneurial spirit is flourishing in this burgeoning food movement, and new, socially responsible enterprises are sprouting up in agricultural areas.

After three weeks on the road, the van pulled into Orland, CA, in time for our Hoe Down. It was a beautiful event and the perfect conclusion to our cross -country exploration.

6a010536e26195970b01538f695bb2970b-800wiBesides the dependability of our old VW van, we were taken by the remarkable passion and diversity of America’s vegan food movement. We found vegans in urban and rural areas, representing all shapes and sizes, ethnicities and lifestyles. We met entrepreneurs, authors, academics, and spiritual and business leaders. We spoke with people who have been vegan for decades and others who just recently decided to forego animal products. And we also met second and third generations of vegans. The vegan movement is bringing people of different ages and various backgrounds together around common interests.

Restaurants are catching on, experimenting with vegan dishes and reporting strong demand. They have been impressed by how enthusiastic and appreciative vegan customers are to see plant-based options. The vegan community is helping these businesses to make plant foods more widely available, providing menu suggestions, product recommendations, and even recipes and food preparation tips. And with more vegan options available, omnivores are increasingly choosing them. Everywhere we went across the U.S., we saw that the vegan movement is vibrant and growing!

 

Gene Baur: Going the Distance for Animals!

Following up on Gene’s previous post from 2011, we revisit his first experience with running a marathon.

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We grow up bombarded with the false idea that consuming meat is necessary to promote strength and athletic endurance, but there are more and more vegan athletes proving that we can perform exceptionally well eating a plant-based diet. Some have even commented that they heal faster and feel better after cutting meat, eggs, and dairy from their diet. I wanted to personally demonstrate how well vegan food supports athletic feats, so I signed up to run my first marathon [in 2011] in Washington, D.C.

While training for the marathon, I completed two 20-mile runs but had never run a full 26 miles, so I was a bit anxious and concerned as race day approached. I’d heard for years about “hitting the wall,” that point when your body runs out of energy after running 20-plus miles. I hoped I would I have the mental toughness to continue running through that pain.

The week before the marathon, I consumed lots of nutrient-dense green smoothies (which I make with bananas, blueberries, flax meal, kale, spinach, and nondairy milk), along with other healthy plant foods. I wanted to store as much energy in my body as possible to get me through the race. I checked the weather forecast, and the temperature on the day of the race was projected to be in the 70s, which is very warm for March. With warm temperatures, I would need to stay properly hydrated for the 26.2-mile course.

On race day, I had a breakfast of oatmeal, nuts, and bananas, and then rode a very crowded metro to the race location. Packed in tightly with other travelers on the train, I was reminded of how farm animals are crowded on factory farms and in transportation trailers.

When the marathon started, I settled in with the 3:30-pace group, hoping I would be able to maintain that pace over the 26-mile course. I guessed that I would finish the race in somewhere between three-and-a-half and four hours and didn’t want to push myself too hard too soon. I was warned by several marathon veterans that running too fast during the first part of the race causes runners to break down during the last five or six miles.

We ran along the national mall and wound our way through the streets of our nation’s capital with well-wishers and musical performers cheering along the way. I felt comfortable keeping up with the 3:30-pace group for most of the race, stopping to drink at every water and Gatorade station to stay hydrated. Then, around mile 18, I decided to speed up, hoping I could finish the race strong. During the last eight miles of the race, I had moments when my legs felt heavy and my joints ached, but I kept going. I remembered my training and the nutrient-rich foods fueling my body, and I also took heart from the vegan organization I was representing. As I approached the finish line wearing my Farm Sanctuary t-shirt, I sprinted and completed the race with a respectable time of 3:28:03. On Sunday, I learned that time qualified me for the Boston Marathon!

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As numerous runners have expressed over the years, finishing a marathon is a very satisfying accomplishment. It can be even sweeter and more satisfying when a cause that is bigger than oneself provides the inspiration. For me, that cause is going the distance for farm animals and joining an ever-growing group of athletes who are thriving on a vegan diet.

Since his first marathon, plant-powered Gene has done 6 marathons and 7 triathlons, including an Ironman. Please also see this Runner’s World interview with Gene!

generunIf you are interested in what Gene eats for his amazing plant-based feats, check outWhat Does a Vegan Marathoner Eat?

 

 

The Psychology of Constructive Outreach

At Farm Sanctuary, we believe most people are compassionate individuals who don’t know what truly goes on at factory farms (for if they did, they might make different choices), and who don’t yet know how to start taking meaningful steps to help farm animals.

Farm Sanctuary’s Compassionate Communities Campaign is dedicated to helping all of our members be better examples of compassionate living, as well as more effective advocates for farm animals. The essays and books we recommend are based on the soundest psychological and sociological research relevant to bringing about personal and societal change.

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Clementine

Tobias Leenaert also explores the effective advocacy space, and is a regular guest blogger here. Recently, he interviewed Dr. Jared Piazza of Lancaster University, UK. Dr. Piazza’s research focuses on moral decision making, including how people think about the moral value of animals. Recently, Dr. Piazza and his colleagues published the papers “Rationalizing Meat Consumption: The 4Ns” in the journal Appetite, and “When Meat Gets Personal, Animals’ Minds Matter Less” in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

The entire interview is worth reading; here is the conclusion:

To finish, I’d like to hear some recommendations you have for activists or the movement.

I guess my first recommendation would be to do your best to avoid the moral reactance and motivated reasoning when discussing the issue of eating meat with people. This is not always possible, but put yourself in their shoes. How would you react if someone suggested to you that something you really enjoy doing and have been doing most of your life was immoral? Perhaps this is something that you never considered to be a problem before and brings you daily pleasure. Do you think you would be receptive to their message at first? Or would you question their arguments? Would you immediately stop what you have been doing all your life, or would you immediately think of ways in which what you’re doing is perfectly acceptable and not problematic?

Perhaps this is something that you never considered to be a problem before and brings you daily pleasure. Do you think you would be receptive to their message at first? Or would you question their arguments? Would you immediately stop what you have been doing all your life, or would you immediately think of ways in which what you’re doing is perfectly acceptable and not problematic? Once you have made the conversion to not eat meat, it is easy to forget what it is like to see things from the other side – from the perspective of the meat-eating majority, who are wondering what all the fuss is about. I’d also recommend to advocates to be inclusive and welcoming, and not to give up. We need people to think they really can make a change. We need to empower people, not only with an awareness of how meat production is destroying our world and ruining lives (lives that truly matter), but also give them an opportunity to imagine other ways of viewing the world, particularly how they view themselves, so they can reason through the arguments in a less defensive, self-preserving manner. I think we may have greater success that way.

Once you have made the conversion to not eat meat, it is easy to forget what it is like to see things from the other side – from the perspective of the meat-eating majority, who are wondering what all the fuss is about. I’d also recommend to advocates to be inclusive and welcoming, and not to give up. We need people to think they really can make a change. We need to empower people, not only with an awareness of how meat production is destroying our world and ruining lives (lives that truly matter), but also give them an opportunity to imagine other ways of viewing the world, particularly how they view themselves, so they can reason through the arguments in a less defensive, self-preserving manner. I think we may have greater success that way.

“Guest” Blogger, Gene Baur!

We’re thrilled to announce that the CCC blog will be running some earlier articles from Gene Baur, Farm Sanctuary’s Co-founder and President and author of two best sellers, Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food and Living the Farm Sanctuary Life: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Mindfully, Living Longer and Feeling Better Every Day. Gene’s experiences and insights can help us all be better examples of compassionate living.

gene_with_animalWe start this series with part 1 of “Going the Distance for Animals,” from 2011. In this post, Gene talks about stepping out of our comfort zone in order to help farm animals. Bonus: Gene also gives us an abbreviated list of some of the incredible athletes that serve as role models in the face of the idea that eating animal products is necessary (just Google vegan athlete for more examples). This is especially relevant in this just-completed Olympic season (e.g., the only male US weightlifter to make the Games is entirely plant-powered!).

Plant-powered Farris Kendrick sets a new American record.

Plant-powered Farris Kendrick sets a new American record.

I have always enjoyed sports and the exhilaration that accompanies the human drama of athletic competition. I grew up playing Little League baseball and Pop Warner football. In high school and college, I started running cross-country and playing Ultimate Frisbee. After founding Farm Sanctuary in 1986 and becoming a full-time activist, I spent less time pursuing athletics. But as my 50th birthday approaches, I’ve renewed my interest in sports, and I want to demonstrate that vegans can perform significant athletic feats. So I signed up to run in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in Washington, DC, on March 17, 2011.

In the U.S., we are bombarded with advertising and “educational” campaigns promoting the notion that consuming meat, milk, and eggs is healthy, even necessary. Many people believe these myths and assume that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to be vegan, let alone to be a vegan athlete. But, in recent years, information about vegan living and athletic achievements fueled entirely by plant foods is better and more readily available.

Olympic Gold Medalist Carl Lewis reports performing his best as a vegan, and Dave Scott won the grueling Ironman Triathlon six times as a vegan (the Ironman is an endurance race where competitors swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and then run a full marathon). Scott Jurek, a vegan ultra-marathon runner, is the seven-time winner of the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run. Elite and professional athletes are increasingly recognizing how plant-based nutrition can support top performance.

So far, I’ve completed a couple of 20-mile runs to get ready. These long-distance outings have been challenging, but I’m feeling strong, and I’m looking forward to the marathon.

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Stay tuned for part 2 with an update on Gene’s running since 2011, as well as future posts from Gene!

 

Activist Sweet Spot

Tobias looks at where we should each focus:

Sometimes people ask me for ideas or advice about how exactly they could or should help animals. They are trying to find out what kind of activism fits them best.

Basically, I think we need to find some kind of sweet spot that is on the junction of three different aspects. You can see them in the drawing below:

sweet-spot

What you love, or are passionate about: don’t just say “animals”. That’s probably a bit too general. Find something more concrete than that. Maybe it’s vegan cooking to help animals. Or public speaking about animals. Or maybe you are very passionate about people and how they function.

What you are good at: you may have a certain skill set. Maybe, because of your education, talent, or experience, maybe you can do something many other people can’t do, or not as good. You might be a graphic designer, an IT-person, a teacher…

What has an impact: this is about what really helps animals. Everything has an impact, of course, but some things have more impact than others (some things may even have a negative impact).

The overlap between these different aspects can vary: it may be small, it may be bigger. You could be one of those human beings for whom effectiveness and feeling good entirely overlap. That is, you only feel good about your work when you know you’re having the most impact (don’t think you’re like that too quickly though, you might be overlooking things).

This is probably the exception, and more often the overlap is smaller, and there may be contradictions. You may love doing something, but that something is maybe not the most effective thing you can do. Or you may love doing something (like public speaking) but actually you suck at it (you may need other people to tell you that). Or you may be the most effective when you use that skillset of yours, but maybe you need some variation and you don’t feel like using it as a volunteer, outside of your dayjob (it would be a pity, obviously, if you have a degree in cellular biology and could make a contribution to cultured meat, but would choose to leaflet instead).

When there is little overlap or when there are conflicts, you can basicallychoose what you prioritize. Most people in general (I’m not talking about vegans or activists now) usually prioritize their own happiness. As activists or people concerned about the world, we can probably expect a little bit more from ourselves: we can at least give some weight to the impact that we have with our actions, and not just do what feels good. I would say it’s good to give the impact-factor a lot of consideration. Some people, however, may go very far in this, and will unequivocally prioritize impact, at the expense of their own well-being, which is probably not the best or most sustainable idea.

Of course you can make combinations: distributing leaflets about animals seems to be a pretty effective investment of your time, but imagine you don’t really like it. Then you can do that maybe one or a couple of hours a week, and devote the rest of your volunteer time to something you like better (but which may be less effective).

Basically you want to do good for animals, but you also want to feel good about what you’re doing. If you do something that doesn’t make you feel good, you will probably be able to keep that up only for a limited time. This may be worthwhile in itself, because it is, after all, time that you have given to the cause. However, there is always the risk that people seriously burn out from doing something that they don’t like – even if it is effective – and that makes them give up on activism altogether, which probably would be a loss.

So my message is: make a healthy mix. Don’t just do anything because it makes you feel good, but don’t go all out on effectiveness either, because that may burn you out.

 

Why Do Most People Eat Meat?

More from our good friend Tobias:

In the 1950’s, the American psychologist Solomon Asch recruited participants at Swarthmore College (United States) for a now famous experiment. He told them he was doing research on perception, but in reality this was a study about conformity and social pressure. Asch showed the participants a set of pictures like the one below.

asch_experimentEach time he showed such a picture, Asch asked which of the bars on the right was of the same length as the one bar on the left. Participants had to state their answer out loud in the group. However, Asch made sure that all but one of the group members were conspirators, whom he had all ordered to give the same wrong answer. The only real, unsuspecting participant had to give their answer after all the others. To his surprise, Asch found that a disturbingly large number of people in this situation gave a wrong answer themselves. It led Asch to conclude: “The tendency to conformity in our society is so strong that reasonably intelligent and well-meaning young people are willing to call white black.” In some cases, people’s reason to give a clearly incorrect answer was that they thought the group was right. In other cases respondents apparently were afraid of seeming different than the rest or didn’t want to cause any trouble.

It’s not difficult to transfer these findings to our own subject. I think it’s a safe bet to assume that many people feel deep down that there is something wrong with the food they eat. They might believe it’s okay to kill animals for food but also believe that those same animals should at least “have a good life.” Or they might believe it’s not worth killing an animal for food at all. But when all these people constantly see around them that eating meat (or animal products) is treated as normal, it is hard to even believe in that vague feeling of discomfort they may have, and it becomes a lot harder to think that something really wrong is going on. Even as a vegetarian or vegan, as someone who’s really internalized the principle that it is not ok to eat animal products, you may have these small moments of doubt, wondering if you are actually seeing things right. The South-African writer and Nobel Laureate J. M. Coetzee attributes the following thoughts to his vegetarian character Elisabeth Costello:

“It’s that I no longer know where I am. I seem to move around perfectly easily among people, to have perfectly normal relations with them. Is it possible, I ask myself, that all of them are participants in a crime of stupefying proportions? Am I fantasizing it all? I must be mad! Yet every day I see the evidences. The very people I suspect produce the evidence, exhibit it, offer it to me. Corpses. Fragments of corpses that they have bought for money. (…) Yet I’m not dreaming. I look into your eyes, into Norma’s, into the children’s, and I see only kindness, human kindness. Calm down, I tell myself, you are making a mountain out of a molehill. This is life. Everyone else comes to terms with it, why can’t you? Why can’t you?”

In part because there’s still only a tiny minority of the people making a problem of meat eating or acting differently, most people don’t often consciously stop to think about meat eating as a moral issue. According to psychologist Steven Pinker, it is one of the major conclusions of the golden age of social psychology that “people take their cues on how to behave from other people.” To the question why most people eat meat, this is one answer that we can give: most people eat meat because most people eat meat.”

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Hence, the importance of critical mass. Change requires numbers. We need enough people to voice their doubts, to show their concern, to not participate, to eat differently, so that others do not longer get the idea that meat is natural, normal and necessary.

Give Animals a Voice in DC!

Gene_Baur_1Dear Friend of Farm Animals,

We have the opportunity, right now, to give farm animals a voice in Washington, DC!

As you are probably aware, the “organic” label fails to protect farm animals from horrendous cruelty, and consumers are being misled. The USDA is considering standards to address the welfare of animals in organic production and is now accepting public comments. These standards are too weak, but they are still a positive step.

Although the proposed organic standards are minimal, not surprisingly, Big Ag is pushing back, trying to prevent any consideration of farm animal interests. Please join the discussion! From today through July 13, you can add your comments by going here and clicking on the “Comment Now!” button.

Some sample language is below; you can also read my comments here. Thank you for giving our friends a voice!

-Gene Baur

I am writing today to express my concern about the inhumane treatment of farm animals in organic production, and to urge the USDA to strengthen the National Organic Program’s proposed rule giving consideration to farm animals raised for the USDA Organic label.

The growth in demand for products labeled as humane, sustainable, natural, free-range, cage-free, organic, etc., illustrates that consumers oppose the inhumane treatment of farm animals. They want meaningful alternatives.

For years, U.S. citizens have assumed that meat, milk, and eggs labeled as organic came from animals treated significantly better than in conventional systems, despite the lack of clear and consistent standards protecting farm animals. I am grateful that the USDA is proposing steps to address this problem, although more needs to be done to better align organic labels with consumers’ expectations.

Like all animals, cows, chickens, pigs, turkeys, and other farm animals deserve to be treated with respect and compassion, and their physical and emotional needs should be met. Farm animals are social creatures; their relationships with each other should be honored, and they should be afforded healthy environments that allow them not only to survive, but to flourish.

Thank you for your time and thoughtful consideration.

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