Sometimes big ideas start out small. This is certainly the case for Farm Sanctuary’s President and co-founder Gene Baur, who has worked to achieve cruelty convictions for the mistreatment of animals and to pass legislation regarding the welfare of animals in the food industry. He was named the “conscience of the food movement” by TIME magazine.
Before Baur got his movement off the ground, though, turning it into what it is today, he was selling veggie hot dogs out of a Volkswagen van with his buddies at Grateful Dead concerts. He has come a long way since those days and has accomplished much in the twenty-seven years that he has been a vegan.
Throughout his career, Baur has visited slaughterhouses, factory farms, and stockyards, documenting animal cruelty and working to change the quality of life for these animals. During his Wednesday lecture at BU’s Sargent College, Baur pointed out that power runs deep in this gigantic industry. Many agricultural laws do not apply to these facilities, making it much easier for animals to be mistreated and for companies to get away with it.
In order to expose the sinister side of the food industry, Baur used the example of “spent hens.” This refers to hens that have been commercially producing eggs, but are then removed from the line for slaughter. However, there is an excess of “spent hens” in today’s fowl industry, which is what led one company to putting live hens through a wood chipper on site. The company was found not guilty when Baur and his team brought them to trial.
Baur has an immense respect for animals, maintaining that they are companionable and compassionate. He has worked to bring attention to the crimes that take place against animals in the United States livestock industry and to create a new beginning at Farm Sanctuary, the first-ever animal rescue for farmed animals. These are animals that have faced cruelty, abuse, and torture and have been tossed out as trash. Farm Sanctuary has expanded to three farms, with two in California and one in New York. Baur emphasized that Farm Sanctuary is a refuge for humans just as much as it is for animals.
In addition to health risks and moral issues, Baur also emphasized the negative impact that an animal based diet has on our environment, bringing up a UN study called Livestock’s Long Shadow. Baur shared with the audience that the livestock sector is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emission and that restaurant production of vegetable-based meals requires one-sixteenth of the fossil fuel gas that is required to produce a meat-based meal.
Throughout his lecture, Baur stressed that just because certain practices in livestock production and consumption have been “normalized” or “socially accepted,” it does not make them right or healthy. Baur argued that animals should be treated as friends, not food, and he ended his discussion with a challenge to the audience. “Be a citizen,” he encouraged. “Not just a consumer.”
Gene Baur is an animal activist, co-founder and President of Farm Sanctuary, and author of the bestselling book Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Mind about Animals and Food. He also appeared in the 2011 documentary Forks Over Knives. This event took place at Sargent College on September 26, and was made possible by the Boston University Vegetarian Society.