Part II – Gene Baur, Farm Sanctuary
Photo Credit: Farm Sanctuary
Gene Baur is co‑founder and president of Farm Sanctuary, America’s leading farm animal protection organization. Gene Baur has been hailed as “the conscience of the food movement” by TIME Magazine. For 25 years he has traveled extensively, campaigning to raise awareness about the abuses of industrialized factory farming and our cheap food system. His book, entitled Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food, was published by Touchstone in March 2008 and has appeared on the Los Angeles Times and The Boston Globe.
Caryn Hartglass: Hey Everybody, we’re back! I’m Caryn Hartglass you’re listening to It’s All About Food and this is the second part of our June 11, 2013 program. Are you hungry after all that talk about delicious food? Mmm! Actually, I’m not too hungry yet but I got some good ideas from that last portion of the program and I love eating healthy, delicious, plant based food because it is so good. All right, next up, I’m very excited about this, Gene Baur from Farm Sanctuary. He is the cofounder and president of Farm Sanctuary, America’s leading farm animal protection organization. Gene has been hailed as the conscience of the food movement by Time magazine. For 25 years he has traveled extensively, campaigning to raise awareness about the abuses of industrialized factory farming and our cheap food system. His book entitled Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food was published by Touchstone and Mark 2008 and has appeared on the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe. How are you doing Gene, welcome to It’s All About Food.
Gene Baur: I’m great and how are you doing? Pleased to be with you.
Caryn Hartglass: Where are you today?
Gene Baur: I’m here in the D.C. area, which is where I am based. I do travel, but I’ll be up in New York this weekend and I go out to California a little bit later in the month.
Caryn Hartglass: Great, well I want you to relax this next half hour, you’re in safe territory. This is vegan world here on my show. I won’t be asking where you get your protein. You talk a lot during the year. I understand you travel all over and give a lot of different talks. My first question is has that presentation that you give, has it changed over the last quarter of a century?
Gene Baur: A lot of the basic information is still the same. That is that animals are being mistreated on factory farms and that citizens can make a choice not to support those industries by shifting to a whole food, plant based diet. That’s the primary message that I keep hammering, hammering, hammering. As far as I can tell, it’s the truth and it’s the same. There have been some changes over the years to the industry. We’ve been able to pass some laws and ban some of the worst cruelties, that’s positive news. There has been more awareness about factory farming and growing mainstream opposition to the inhumane treatment of animals on farm. There’s a growing recognition of the benefits of plant based eating. So we have a lot of positive things in place in terms of attitude and awareness and we also have the Internet now where people can share information, make videos of factory farms for examples. They can also get recipes for vegan food for example. There’s a lot of good information available, those are all the good things. The bad thing is that we still have a massive infrastructure to support industrial animal agriculture that includes tax breaks, government, support from the USDA. We have a school system that is still not doing as good a job as it should be, creating healthy habits in children, although there are a couple schools now that are promoting Meatless Mondays, vegetarian cafeteria, there’s some progress there. By and large, meat eating is still the norm and it is not addressed in a very thoughtful way, unfortunately so the mindless consumption patterns continue. That’s what we continue speaking out against, encouraging people to make more thoughtful, healthful, more humane, more sustainable food choice. That’s where the change is going to happen, in the marketplace.
Caryn Hartglass: Yay.
Gene Baur: We’ve been albeit o pass some laws but at the end of the day agribusiness depends on consumers to buy their products. When we stop buying meat, milk, and eggs, anything from these cruel industries, they will have to shift and that’s starting to happen a little bit right now.
Caryn Hartglass: So I imagine over the last quarter century, talking to people, you’ve been inspired by some of the good things that are happening, but being a broken record, saying the same thing over and over, it’s just amazing to me how overtime people still don’t know or still don’t want to know and still ask the same questions and in some ways it makes me feel like we’re all mindless robots running around because we ask the same questions when we’re posed with a certain concept. We’re all programmed.
Gene Baur: We are programmed and we’re bombarded with certain messages for years and on a regular basis, on television and radio, it’s become a belief system. We grow up being told that you need to eat meat to get protein and that’s absolutely not the case but it’s been said so many times for so many years to the media and then parents say it to their children who then say it to their children and say it to their friends. Even doctors are misinformed about nutrition and they get a lot of their information from pharmaceutical companies who kind of have an interest in people buying their products, heart medication. We have an institutional systemic problem and it is one that takes an energy to break out of. Most people go along with the majority, we are social animals. We tend to do what those around us do. Unfortunately, the majority of people still consume animals in this country. Still think that we need to consume animals, or that consuming animals is healthy somehow. This is a belief and the fact is we can live and do very well without eating any animal foods including dairy products. One of the things that the dairy industry has the public believing is that we need to drink cow’s milk to get calcium to prevent osteoporosis. That’s absolutely not the case. In our country, we drink a lot of cow’s milk but we also get a lot of osteoporosis so that’s clearly not fixing the problem. We have a lot of myths that we grow up with and we act on. I think we just need to be open minded and be willing to think of things in a different way and be willing to go against the main stream which is what needs to happen if someone wants to adopt a vegan lifestyle right now.
Caryn Hartglass: We have some things in our favor this days so there are more people that have been vegan for a long time. More of us and some of us in our 40s and 50s I recently turned 55 we’re feeling good, we’re looking good, while our peers are looking pasty and pale and are having joint pains, knee pains, shoulder pains, all kind of pains, and I think it’s becoming clearer on an individual basis why this diet is so good.
Gene Baur: This is absolutely true. The proof is in the pudding and people are starting to recognize and take notice of these vegans who are doing very well health wise.
Caryn Hartglass: Take Gene for example, ok? I saw a little video you were on KTLA recently in Los Angeles, you looked fabulous and the cohost did not look as good. You can just see what a testament it is to the great nutrition that plants provide. I noticed that you were recently interviewed in Runner’s World last month.
Gene Baur: I was in Runner’s World in the May issue, I’m a runner’s feature and I’ve done 3 marathons in the past year and I qualified for Boston in all 3 of them. In the last marathon I ran in Los Angeles, I was in the top 3 percentile for my age group for the time I finished, so for a vegan you can do pretty darn well. I’m now in the process of training for the Iron Man Triathlon later on this year, just demonstrating that vegans can do fairly well in the athletic field.
Caryn Hartglass: Well there’s another myth. A lot of people believe that as they age life is just going to go downhill and our bodies aren’t going to work for us and we’re going to feel worse and worse. I’d like to think we’re not getting older, we’re getting better.
Gene Baur: I think that’s a very good attitude and I agree with it. To think that our bodies are going to fall apart and not take care of us causes us to not take care of them actually. We need to be very mindful we need to pay attention to our bodies and feed them properly, move them, exercise them, and just listening to our bodies and just being mindful of the cost of our choices whether it’s how we eat or whether we exercise or not. Getting older does not necessarily lead to us suffering more as is often time assumed.
Caryn Hartglass: YOu have done a phenomenal job educating the public about what is wrong with our food system and what is going on with animal agriculture and I have to thank you over and over for that. You have touched so many souls and have made such a tremendous difference. While that happens there’s this great push back between the animal agriculture industry and corporations that want to sell us unhealthy stuff and we continue to hear a lot of distractions about the issues that are really ridiculous. There was one on that KTLA program when I watched that video where they were talking about is veganism the new anorexia.
Gene Baur: That was amazing, yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s nutty. They just want to go for sensationalism and things that make something that is so good, eating plant foods, you can not connect that with someone who is not eating.
Gene Baur: Absolutely. I think that these are the theories that people have. The fear of change. We just need to be able to demonstrate that living this way makes sense, that it’s healthy, and it’s good for you. I think making the lifestyle attractive is also very important. There are some misconceptions out there and there’s fear and those are some of the main things that we have to be able to confront and we can do that by being supportive of any positive change that people make and when they start to look into these issues. There’s certainly strange questions coming at us like what happened when I was on KTLA and we just I think have to recognize that it’s coming from a place of fear and that these people have been bombarded with certain messages and there’s a general prejudice against this idea that you can live well as a vegan. Given the mass marketing of the meat, dairy, and egg industries in our country.
Caryn Hartglass: The fact that we are a fat society, more and more people are overweight, some are obese and some are just plump. Plump is like the norm so that when you see someone who is fit and slim, I’ve heard a lot of people say, you’re too thin!
Gene Baur: Bad becomes normal. I’ve not been to a doctor in many, many years and I figured two years ago I was in my late 40s and I should go to the doctor just to make sure everything’s fine. I went to the doctor and everything was fine, but the doctor asked me if I had any heart disease in my family and I told him that my father had a heart attack. The first thing he said to me was I want to put you on heart medication, which is ridiculous. That’s the norm which is crazy, so I left that doctor and went to another doctor and basically just had them take my blood and asked them what it looked like. Everything’s in the normal range except for one category is outside the normal range and that category was cholesterol and it was below normal. These numbers start getting skewed up and I think that cholesterol numbers have been adjusted to sort of fit our population which may be isn’t the healthiest profile so that becomes normal. That’s what we’re dealing with.
Caryn Hartglass: That is correct. I just want to add here that just because you’re vegan does not mean you’re invulnerable and nobody gets out of this world alive. We all have a certain lifespan and then the game is over. So while we’re here we should be having a great time experiencing joy, enjoying our bodies, and feeling good as well as we possibly can. That’s where plant based foods can really kick in and make the difference. I had a personal health crisis 7 years ago. Time marches on, I had advanced ovarian cancer and I was a vegan and I’ve kind of figured out to myself how this happened to me but what is very clear to me is my diet kept me alive for decades. I was living with the problem and didn’t really acknowledge it and it also kept me alive through treatment and now I’m thriving. That’s the power of plants. It doesn’t mean that problems aren’t going to arise but when we’re feeding ourselves with great nutrition, it’s going to really improve our odds of doing well and feeling great.
Gene Baur: That’s absolutely the case. We’re all human, we’re all vulnerable, we will all die. How our bodies perform and how our lives play out is very much affected by what we put into our bodies and if we’re putting in toxins, if we’re putting in animal foods that our bodies can not properly digest, if we’re putting in foods that are laced with antibiotic resistant bacteria and various other pathogens, then we’re only going to have negative impacts. So eating healthy foods that are clean, that allows our body to function at the best level they can is going to across the board strengthen our immune system so that when we do have various challenges that our bodies are best equipped to fight those off. We’re human beings and we all have various issues that we deal with and at the end of the day all of our bodies are going to end up going back into the earth. But while we’re here, while we’re breathing, while we’re alive, we want to thrive and live as well as possible. At least, that’s the way I look at it.
Caryn Hartglass: And being nice to everyone around us, everyone and everything. Let’s talk about Farm Sanctuary and where you are today. You’re in D.C. and I know Farm Sanctuary has become more involved in dialogue with our government.
Gene Baur: We have for a long time tried to pass legislation to ban some of the worst cruelty that happens on factory farms and we’re so involved in that process. We’ve worked on state laws, we’ve worked in federal laws but whenever you’re working legislation, frankly, you’re going to get fairly modest improvements. So keep doing that, we think it’s important, it’s important to be involved in the process and for citizens to be involved in the process as well. We also do a lot to educate people about the fact that we can live and be healthy eating plant foods and not eating animal foods. We educate people about the benefits of plant based eating and we have three sanctuaries where we take care of farm animals that have been rescued from horrible abuse situations. In some cases we’ve found living animals on farmland in trashcans or discarded on piles of dead animals. So we rescue those animals and take care of them in our sanctuaries. One in upstate New York, one in northern California and one in Los Angeles California. These sanctuaries are places where the animals are our friends, not our food. People can come visit and connect with cows, pigs, turkeys, chickens, sheep, and goats, and recognize them as living, feeling creatures. At Farm Sanctuary the animals are seen very much as other people see their cats and dogs. If they’re sick we get the veterinarian out to look at them. They get to live out their lives, they get to enjoy their lives and it’s a beautiful place. It’s a sanctuary for animals and a sanctuary for people. We model a different kind of relationship with these animals, one that is based on compassion as opposed to the model you see on factory farms which is the callous disregard to the animals’ basic welfare. On factory farms you see a commodity, at Farm Sanctuary these animals are companions. Most people, when they look at those two different worlds, would rather live in a world where the animals are our friends rather than where the animals are being abused.
Caryn Hartglass: I know I would.
Gene Baur: Most people are humane, most people are humane and don’t like cruelty, but unfortunately most people are unwittingly supporting cruelty by consuming animal foods so then you have this disconnect and you have a distance between people and their compassionate values and their actions which do not support their compassionate values. As a result, when we talk about factory farming, people oftentimes say don’t tell me I don’t want to know because it’s upsetting to know what is happening and most people recall that and don’t want to be a part of it. So rather than changing, because people are very afraid of change, they just say don’t tell me I don’t want to know and I don’t think that’s a very good answer. I think that we have to take responsibility, need to look at what we’re doing, look at the consequences of our actions, and then make choices that we can feel good about.
Caryn Hartglass: You brought up fear and that’s such an important concept and it impacts everything we do positive and negative. When somebody says I don’t want to know about that, what do you say to them? Is there a way to get through to them when they specifically say I don’t want to know.
Gene Baur: Different people are going to respond to different kind of messages. I would ask them why don’t you want to know? Respond with a question and they’ll say I don’t want to know because it’s upsetting. Well why is it upsetting? Well I don’t like what they’re doing to the animals. Well why are they doing that to the animals? Because these animals have feelings and they suffer. People actually, when they examine their conscience, will come to recognize that this is a system that is inappropriate and outside of the bounds of acceptable conduct and that, ultimately, it should be changed. It takes time and old habits take awhile to change and people are scared of change so we have to be patient but we also need to be persistent and firm in our position and straightforward about what is happening. But I think we also need to be understanding that for a lot of people they’re frightened and they don’t know what to do. That’s one of the reasons why people also say don’t tell me I don’t want to know because they don’t think they can change. They feel disempowered. If they believe they eat animal food for protein or calcium or whatever and they also believe that eating plant foods is very difficult and neither of those is true. You can get everything you need from plant foods without animal foods and it’s getting easier and easier to eat a completely vegan diet. This idea that it’s difficult is a myth. There’s lots of vegan food available and it’s getting easier than ever.
Caryn Hartglass: And what do I say on It’s All About Food all the time? You don’t know how good you can feel until you do it. You just don’t know. It feels good. Farm Sanctuary has a walk for farm animals?
Gene Baur: That’s right. Every year in the fall we have a walk for farm animals and we even have a website specifically for this program it’s called walkforfarmanimals.org and lots of people from around the country gather together to walk in support of protecting farm animals and supporting Farm Sanctuary’s work. It’s a great way to raise awareness, and to raise funds, to reach out to your friend and your family, your coworkers and encourage them to become engaged and aware of these issues as well. It allows us to reach more and more people every year. We have walks going on in about 40 cities this year and if you go to the website you can see if there’s a walk in your area. Even if there is not a walk in your area you can still get involved so just check out the website and hopefully people who are hearing this will want to get involved and be part of the solution to this massive problem that needs more engines.
Caryn Hartglass: Most people, the ones that are afraid or the ones that are afraid of change specifically, will say “I have a busy life, I don’t know what to eat.” You’re on the road all the time so how do you do it? You look great, you’re running and training for an Iron Man and you’re on the road. What are you eating and where do you get it from?
Gene Baur: You can go to grocery stores and get fruit, apples and bananas, for example, that’s pretty easy to do. Or nuts and raisins, I’ll have those fairly frequently. I [spent my parents] in LA and they usually have oats and I just take oats with soy milk or almond milk or some kind of nondairy milk. That’s very easy to do. Oatmeal, you can eat oatmeal at restaurants all over the place. You can get a burrito at fast food chains or other restaurants, a bean burrito with no cheese, an easy vegan thing to get. You can get spaghetti with marinara sauce with no meatballs. Maybe they can throw some veggies in there. You’re just being a little bit creative, it works, and it’s getting easier and easier. It used to be that soy milk in the 1980s you have to mix a powder with a water to get soy milk. Now you can go to grocery stores and they have different varieties of nondairy alternatives. There’s almond milk, soy milk, there’s coconut milk. I think it’s just a matter of getting out of old habits and instead of going and getting cow’s milk, go and purchase a non diary milk.
Caryn Hartglass: There’s no excuse that holds anymore, it’s all out there, it’s all easy, it’s all available pretty much all over the United States. You mentioned your parents, what do they eat?
Gene Baur: Well my parents are not vegan but they eat a lot less animal products than they used to. My dad had a heart attack about 15 years ago. When he was in the hospital, they were feeding him bacon and eggs. It was crazy so that I think opened his mind to this idea that doctors don’t know everything. My dad started reading books, he read Dean Ornish’s book on reversing heart disease and has changed how he’s eating and my mother has also changed in a positive direction and their health has improved because of it.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh that’s good news, very good indeed. It’s crazy I know that when I was in the hospital and when I would talk to dietitians about what I wanted to eat and see what they were feeding people, cancer patients would eat bacon like you said and foods with sugar and sugar feeds cancer. It’s just crazy and these people have degrees and they are educated and they don’t know anything.
Gene Baur: It’s really amazing, just to come back and see the food they give them at hospitals. It’s really unfortunate and I think that people that work in the hospitals are not bad people, they’re just terribly misinformed. They have bad habits and they assume that this is the right way and the healthy way to eat when it is not. They are starting to be more aware of it and some doctors are starting to speak out and I’m hopeful.
Caryn Hartglass: We just have a few seconds Gene so thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food! You’re so great and you’re doing great things so thank you for that. We’re out of time so thank you for joining me I’m Caryn Hartglass on It’s All About Food join me at responsibleeatingandliving.com and have a delicious week!
Transcribed on 12/24/2013 by Meichin