|Farm Sanctuary co-founder Gene Bauston takes time between speaking gigs at North American Vegetarian Society's Vegetarian Summerfest '99 to spend some time with Vegan Street's Marla Rose|
|"I remember coming home one time, and my mom had a chicken on the table, a cooked chicken, but for some reason on this particular day, I saw a chicken"||
Gene Bauston is an incredible person. Knowing the kind of person he is, I'm sure those words will be a source of embarrassment for him, because Gene is as modest a person as he is extraordinary. He and his wife Lorri co-founded Farm Sanctuary at a time when very few thought that the welfare of a cow was worthy of consideration, let alone that of a chicken or turkey. Slowly, they have changed the attitudes of thousands of people, with gentleness, thoughtfulness and honesty, helping to widen the circle of compassion to include those who are usually thought of simply as dinner.
Over the past thirteen years, Farm Sanctuary has expanded far beyond the original sanctuary, which was essentially a small backyard in Delaware, to two locations that include hundreds of acres, one in New York and one in California. During this time, Gene, Lorri and the rest of the Farm Sanctuary staff have been able to prove to thousands of animals who knew only the harshest, most brutal conditions that there is such a thing as compassion and kindness in this world. They have also educated thousands of people about the gruesome reality of the modern animal food industry, an industry that not only exploits animals but one that also reaps an enormous toll on our planet and on human health.
Gene and I sat down to talk at the North American Vegetarian Society's Summerfest in July of 1999. I found him to be accessible, warm and quite unpretentious. As we were talking, I marveled at the fact that Gene, a man who has visited countless slaughterhouses and confinements, an activist who has witnessed heartrending suffering and unabashed cruelty, retains his compassion and hope for the world. I think that this mere fact should offer reams of hope for the rest of us as well.
Marla Rose: To start out, I want to talk to you about some of the important things in your life that got you to think about animals in a different way.
Gene Bauston: Well, as I was growing up, and I grew up in the Hollywood Hills, I actually had wildlife all around me. There were deer who would run through the hills, there were skunks, raccoons, snakes, coyotes. And so I look back upon those days and I really think that my concern and interest in animals came from seeing them running around the hills. I remember as a little boy there was this deer in a neighbors backyard who was injured and dying and I remember that that affected me. And then when I was about ten or so I had a cat who was one of my best friends. When he died I was all broken up. So there were a variety of things as I was growing up which made me think about and like animals, but I never made the connection about food animals. I grew up as a normal American eating meat, milk and eggs regularly. But in high school, I remember coming home one time, and my mom had a chicken on the table, a cooked chicken, but for some reason on this particular day, I saw a chicken.
MR: Do you mean that you literally saw a dead chicken?
GB: That's right. There was this carcass and it was obvious there was a leg, a breast, and it was just clear that it had been a bird. And I didn't eat chicken for a while after that, but I still wasn't entirely vegan. Over time, though, I learned more about the food industry, and slowly evolved until I eventually became vegan. Over the course of years I saw things that helped me make my mind up.
MR: The time between making this connection to the chicken and then finally deciding to become a vegan, how long was it?
GB: It was a number of years. Probably about five years, during which time I ate more or less meat depending on various circumstances. I'm not a cook by any stretch of the imagination; I would eat the most simple things, and I still do. I would get a can of something and just eat it right out of the can, and sometimes it would be tuna. So it took awhile for me to ultimately become vegan, but once I decided to do it, it was done.
MR: What was influential in your decision to finally make that commitment?
GB: It just seemed like the right thing to do. I met people who were vegetarians, and it just felt right.
MR: When did you meet Lorri?
GB: I met Lorri in 1985 in Chicago. Lorri was working for Greenpeace and I was hitchhiking around the country. A friend of mine worked at Greenpeace in Chicago, and I was going there to see him. But I ran into Lorri. I ended up staying with her for a couple of weeks, then I continued traveling around the country that summer hitchhiking. Then I went back to Chicago before I had to go back to California, and Lorri and I spent some more time together. We went camping in Colorado and decided that we wanted to stay with each other. After I finished school in California, we drove out together to the East Coast and started Farm Sanctuary.
MR: Can you tell us a little about the origins of Farm Sanctuary. Didn't it start with a sheep you found that you named Hilda?
|"We saw dead cows, dead pigs, dead sheep, and maggots literally inches deep and they were buzzing they were so thick. And out of this pile, Hilda raises her head, and we were shocked that there was this living animal"||
GB: Yeah. When we first started Farm Sanctuary in 1986, we didn't really know the extent to which farm animals were abused. We had heard stories, we had read books, but we wanted to see first-hand what was going on. We started visiting stockyards and we would literally find animals left for dead, in pens or walkways, or even in trash cans or on piles of dead animals. And the day we found Hilda, we were just walking around the back of the stockyard where they have the dead pile, and as we approached it we saw dead cows, dead pigs, dead sheep, and maggots literally inches deep and they were buzzing they were so thick. And out of this pile, Hilda raises her head, and we were shocked that there was this living animal.
MR: You were probably in shock anyway, and then to see this...
GB: Right. It was such a gruesome scene. This is August in a humid part of Pennsylvania. It was this hot, very ugly scene, and we were in this altered state to begin with and then to see Hilda lift her head off of this pile. We could not leave her there, obviously, and so we loaded her into our van and we found a veterinarian who would look at her. He started poking around and within about 20 minutes she was standing.
MR: Was she dehydrated?
GB: I think it was just heat exhaustion. She had been in a truck from New York state, and I think she passed out from heat exhaustion. And when the trucker arrived at the stockyard, the animals who walked off where unloaded into the stockyard, and those who didn't walk off were taken around back and thrown into the dead pile. Some were dead and some weren't, and Hilda was one who was not. She recovered and lived for 11 years at the farm.
MR: At first, didn't you have some sort of a makeshift sanctuary, with Hilda living in your back yard?
GB: laughing: That's exactly right. We had a row house in Delaware that was donated space.
MR: You probably had to learn a lot very quickly.
GB: We learned an awful lot, and we learned by doing. So we had this row house in Delaware that had a back yard with a shed, and that's where Hilda recuperated. Then we found a foster home for her, and we were also rescuing other animals, you know, cows and pigs and chickens. We were rehabilitating them at that house, but obviously we didn't have enough space for the animals we were rescuing, so we started the Adopt A Farm Animal program, where people who have space and the interest can adopt an animal and give him a good life. Luckily we came across a tofu farmer in Pennsylvania who let us use some of his land. We found him through our work in the early days.
MR: Didn't you start out funding Farm Sanctuary by selling tofu hot
GB: That's right. We were doing this out of a green Volkswagen van that we would take to Grateful Dead shows, and then we would go to stockyards and do research in this same VW van. We met the tofu farmer because in addition to selling veggie dogs, we would occasionally cater parties for cash which we would use to help the animals. We were going to cater a party and we needed a lot of tofu so we found out through the co-op where they got their supply of tofu. That led us back to him. We talked to him about what we were doing and he came with us to the stockyard one day and he was moved by what he saw, upset by it. So he told us that he had a little extra space and that if we wanted to use it, we could, so we did. The barn needed a lot of work. We fixed it up and then we started bringing the animals there.
MR: At that point, how many animals did you have approximately?
GB: We could accommodate up to about a hundred animals.
MR: That's pretty big for a couple of beginners. So every time you got a new kind of animal, you probably had to do quite a bit of research as to where to get them food and how to best care for them.
GB: Yes. We had to learn what chickens needed, what turkeys needed. And we usually kept them all together in one barn. It worked out for a while, but we found that in some cases, certain animals didn't get along with others or could potentially put another in danger. One day in particular, I remember we had Mia the cow and Francis the pig, the two big guys around the farm, and they got into a little tiff. Mia butted Francis on his side. Francis got hurt, not so much physically as emotionally. He just went over into the corner and sulked for the rest of the day. It was clear that this wasn't a very good situation and that potentially Mia could really hurt him. So we started separating them out. Different animals have different needs: pigs like ponds and water, cows, sheep and goats need more grazing areas, so we started housing the animals in more appropriate situations.
MR: When did you move to New York? What was the genesis of that?
GB: Between 1986 and 1989, we had the office in Delaware and the farm in Pennsylvania, and we had to commute back and forth. By 1989 we had outgrown our existing facilities and we needed to expand again. We started looking for property and we saw a farm advertised near Watkins Glen, New York. it was advertised as a 175-acre farm with barns, tractors, equipment and a seven bedroom house. They were asking $110,000 for it. So we went up there, looked at it, fell in love with it, offered $95,000 and they took it for $100,000. We left a down-payment that was raised through walk-a-thons.
MR: When did you open your sanctuary in California and why did you do that?
GB: In 1993 somebody in California contacted us and told us he had some additional land that we could have.
MR: Were you in need of more land?
GB: At the time our New York facility was doing well, but California is the number one animal agriculture state in the U.S. There was a huge need for this kind of of work in California, so we went out, looked at the property and it made sense. So we did open a location there in 1993, and we're still developing that spot right now.
|"These are animals that have come from the most horrendous of circumstances, they've been left on dead piles or left in trash cans; they've been confined in crates, chained by the neck and starved. And despite all that, many of them still come around to trust and love humans"||
MR: What are some of the things that you've learned from working hands-on with animals? What different kinds of insights or lessons that they can teach us?
GB: One of the most amazing lessons I've learned from the animals at Farm Sanctuary is their capacity for forgiveness. These are animals that have come from the most horrendous of circumstances, they've been left on dead piles or left in trash cans; they've been confined in crates, chained by the neck and starved. And despite all that, many of them still come around to trust and love humans. That is, I think, the most powerful message that these animals have for us and it's constantly amazing to me.
MR: Do you try to incorporate that into your own life?
GB: I'm starting to. For much of the time that we do this work, we are in very confrontational settings. We got to farms and slaughterhouses and stockyards where people are abusing animals in huge numbers and we try to stop that from happening. It's a naturally confrontational and antagonistic situation. It's easy to get angry and start calling people names in that kind of a situation, but we've learned that doing that, ultimately, only serves to make both sides angrier. Even if someone's going to yell at you and call you names, you can't control what he's going to do, but you can control yourself.
MR: It seems that a lot of what you guys do is not only applied toward the animals, but really revolves around extending compassion to all life. I know that you and Lorri went to India recently...Was any of that because you wanted to visit where Gandhi had lived?
GB: A big part of our decision to go to India was based on what Gandhi had done there, and the history of a vegetarian culture in India. Some of the reading that we've done lately has been of Thich Nhat-Hanh, a Buddhist monk who was in Vietnam during the war, and who was working to stop the war through non-violent means. His writings are extremely compassionate and, again, forgiving. He says that with understanding there can't be hatred. Even abusers, in a sense, are victims.
MR: Are you ever so overwhelmed by the experience of visiting stockyards and factory farms that it's difficult for you to extend that compassion to an abuser?
GB: There are some times when you see such callous disregard for animals' feelings that you do get very upset and you don't want to extend compassion. You get angry, you want to lash out. But doing that is only going to cause more harm. And the goal is to help everybody.
MR: Can you describe what you thought or felt the first time you went into an actual slaughterhouse?
GB: It's sort of hard to recall that, you know, because what I do, and what other people do, is you become removed from it. When I go into a slaughterhouse, I go in with the sole intention of gathering documentation and getting out.
MR: So you must do this on the sly, without people knowing.
GB: Yes. When I've been in slaughterhouses it's been through the back door or I've been hiding behind or under something.
MR: Can you describe a little of what one would encounter if he or she went into a slaughterhouse?
GB: One of the first things that comes to mind is clanking, clanking of gates and walkways where the animals are being moved. Workers hooting and screaming and whipping and shocking and moving the animals is one of the first things that you see in the pens and walkways. That's in the case of cattle. Also, there's a kind of cold, metallic feel even though it's hot and steamy. Often times they have concrete floors and metal walls. After the cows walk into the plant, they are knocked with a pneumatic stunner that mechanically knocks them out, or it's supposed to. Then they fall to the ground and have their throats cut.
MR: In your experience what proportion of the cows go through this horrific process without being properly knocked?
GB: It's very hard to come up with a percentage, but a significant number. I've seen animals not properly stunned and still conscious hanging upside down. In the case of poultry, they don't even have to stun them legally, so you have fully conscious chickens.
MR: That's awful. The Humane Slaughter Act, as weak as it is, does not even include poultry.
GB: Yes and that's for the vast majority of the animals killed in the U.S. each year. Well over ninety percent. Some years ago there was a bill introduced in Washington to include poultry in the Humane Slaughter Act, and Farm Sanctuary as well as other groups worked to support that bill. Unfortunately it didn't pass, but unfortunately that's not surprising. There's a law that passed in California that required poultry to be included in the Humane Slaughter Act with some exemptions, but it still did include them. And the Department of Agriculture then passed some regulations that we felt were not humane, so we sued the Department of Agriculture in California. We confirmed through the courts that any method of slaughter for chickens had to be humane. Now, we had some mixed feelings about that. I mean, it's a good thing that there was at least this acknowledgment that it had to be "humane", but the big question is, really, what is humane? At this time I don't think there really is such a thing as humane slaughter. Ultimately it's taking an animal's life for no reason. We're willing to work for any improvements, though. If it means that they will suffer less, we'll work for that.
|"I think that vegans have really taken control of the word vegan, and are acting compassionately and respectfully, in a way that others want to emulate. Because of that, the word vegan is started to be seen in a more positive light"||
MR: There are probably some in the animal rights movement who are offended by that idea, who think that you're working within a hopelessly corrupt system, and any negotiation is a compromise.
GB: I think there are some people in the animal movement who are against any regulation or any negotiation with the animal industries, and I understand that point of view. Ideally, I agree with it. What we need to do is promote a vegan lifestyle, and promote an economy that does not depend on exploiting animals. We do that: we promote a vegan lifestyle. But this year there will be about eight billion farm animals slaughtered in the U.S.; most will suffer horribly during several parts of that process. If we can do anything to lessen the suffering, we will do that, but we still are committed to a vegan world at the end of the day.
MR: There are a lot of people who would say that working on these kinds of reforms is an animal welfarist attitude, but you guys see the industry from the inside and you know first-hand how awful it is. You know that it's not going to end overnight, so you do what you can to lessen the degree of suffering.
GB: Exactly. We consider ourselves an animal rights group, but we're also an animal welfare group. Ultimately we're for animal rights, but we're also for stopping suffering now. We have the long-term and the short-term objectives in mind.
MR: Do you see more awareness in the general public as to what "food" animals endure and do you see any heightened desire to want to be involved in our movement?
GB: I'm very encouraged by the growing interest in vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. The word vegan is now known, and I take that as a very positive sign. In the past it's been used in a sort of demeaning way and I think that there's been an interest on the part of some animal exploiters to paint vegans as unreasonable and crazy. To a certain extent, they've had some success. But I think that vegans have really taken control of the word vegan, and are acting compassionately and respectfully, in a way that others want to emulate. Because of that, the word vegan is started to be seen in a more positive light, and I think that's very encouraging.
MR: I've noticed with more frequency that people within the movement are trying to maintain a more nonviolent, compassionate outlook that embraces not only the animals, but also humankind. Have you noticed this at all?
GB: Yes, I think so. As the animal rights movement matures and evolves, it is extending to other areas of exploitation and injustice. There's a natural connection between all of these things; violence is violence, whether it be toward nonhuman animals, human animals or the earth. What we do to the others, we do to ourselves. I think that for the general population of the U.S., which tends to be very self-motivated, there is a real interest now in addressing these issues and trying to remedy them.
MR: Unfortunately my tape has almost run out... Is there any kind of final thought you'd like to leave us with?
GB: Basically, what we do to others we do to ourselves. By killing animals, we are killing ourselves, physically and emotionally. Whatever we do, we affect ourselves and we affect many others. We need to make our choices based on compassion and based on information. We need to go out and get the information and live with compassion, and then this world would be a heck of a nicer place.
MR: Thanks very much, Gene.
GB: Thank you.
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