By Ulrica Wihlborg
When Gene Baur was in high school, he asked his grandmother how veal was made. A meat eater at the time, her blunt answer didn’t sit right with him. A few years later, he became a vegan and started Farm Sanctuary, an organization that raises awareness about farm animals and combats the abuses of factory farming. Today, it has three shelters – one located in New York and two in California — where nearly 1,000 rescued farm animals live “as friends, not food,” says Bauer. “Coming here, you realize that these animals are no different than your dog or cat. Once you look them in the eyes, you’ll discover they have the same spark of life as your own pet, or you.”
Baur, an Ironman triathete, is the picture of healthy living. And his new book Living The Farm Sanctuary Life: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Mindfully, Living Longer, and Feeling Better Every Day, , co-authored by Forks Over Knives author Gene Stone, is a celebration of healthy, vibrant vegan food. It’s also a powerful reminder of the emotional transformation you will experience once you adopt a plant-based diet. “Most of us are kind and compassionate people,” says Baur. “But animal production is violent, cruel and unnecessary. So when you stop eating animals, you won’t only feel amazing health benefits. The moment you start doing what you know in your heart is right, you will also feel incredible joy and freedom.”
Ulrica: What is the Farm Sanctuary life?
Gene: The idea for this book was to make the vegan lifestyle accessible to everyone. It provides people with easy tools to live in line with their values, as well as great vegan recipes. We all want to eat healthier foods and support farming that doesn’t destroy the planet. It’s really about being our best selves, and sharing the planet with others in a kind and positive way. We’re celebrating life and helping people take steps to live more compassionately.
Ulrica: What changes in society have you noticed since your first book, Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food, in 2008?
Gene: That book was more about the terrible things happening in factory farming, and educating people about them. But I think people are much more aware of that now. We know the terrible conditions of factory farms, and the negative consequences of an animal-based diet. It’s becoming obvious that in order to live healthy lives, and save our planet, we need to eat a plant-based diet.
Ulrica: Veganism has also turned into something cool. Earlier this year, Beyonce even launched her own vegan home delivery service. We see these vegan celebrities and athletes looking amazing, and we want that for ourselves.
Gene: We’re social animals, so the more vegans that are around us, the more we see the benefits of such a healthy lifestyle.
Ulrica: A lot of people who visit Farm Sanctuary turn into vegans. Why?
Gene: People know intellectually that when they eat meat, they are eating animals. They’re eating other living beings. But it’s still a fairly distant concept. It’s not tangible. So when people come here, they get to look in the animal’s eyes. And they see that these animals are living individuals just like us. It’s a moving experience. To abuse them and kill them for the sake of our palate is scary and cruel. Here, animals are respected. That is the norm. And it rubs off. Just like when I grew up as a kid, it was the norm to eat meat. Everybody around me was doing it. At Farm Sanctuary, it’s the norm not to eat meat. Here, the animals are our friends, not our food. You can interact with the animals in a respectful and mutually beneficial way. It’s a wonderful and transformative experience.
Ulrica: The number one question you hear from people curious about veganism is, ‘How do you get enough protein?’
Gene: That’s in response to the ongoing media barrage over the idea that we need meat for protein. It’s not true. It’s something that’s propagated by the powerful meat and dairy industry. Most of us grew up with this belief, and it’s hard to get over it. But it’s a belief and not a fact. Part of our work is to dispel that myth. It’s become easier and easier over the years to show that plant-based food is powerful. There are so many vegan athletes now and they perform incredible in competitions.
Ulrica: How do you eat yourself?
Gene: I don’t eat meat, milk or eggs. I try to eat whole foods, whole grains and beans. I try to eat locally, too, and love to go to the Farmers Market. I like to support small, organic farms. I do still eat breads, donuts and pastries. I had a chocolate chip cookie today! It’s getting to be so easy to find delicious vegan pastries, but I try not to eat a ton of sugar. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of marathons, and I’ve done an Ironman, so I need good nutrition. I’m constantly striving to improve and learn and be better.
Ulrica: I think that’s the key for anyone interested in exploring plant-based living — to simply try your best one step at a time.
Gene: Yes, take small steps in the direction of living more mindfully, passionately and compassionately. You’ll notice you feel better and healthier, and that will spur more steps in the right direction. Many people grew up not even thinking about not eating animal products. So start by taking one step. Substitute one animal product for something plant-based. That will lead to more positive steps, and eventually you will change your life and the world around you.
Ulrica: An unexpected benefit of giving up animals as food is that you feel lighter, more peaceful and yes, even happier.
Gene: You know, we all know that cruelty and violence do not make us feel good. So even if we don’t think about it so much, when we support cruelty — which we do when we give our dollars to factory farming — it doesn’t feel good. It might taste good in that moment, but deep down there’s this emotional guilt and discomfort. Why? Because when our empathy and our behavior are not aligned, it doesn’t feel good. So when you make the decision to live in sync with your values and what you know is true, it does make you happier. •
Click here to get your own copy of Gene Baur’s new book Living The Farm Sanctuary Life: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Mindfully, Living Longer, and Feeling Better Every Day. You can follow Gene Baur on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and visit Farm Sanctuary to sponsor an animal through the Adopt a Farm Animal program.
All photographs courtesy of Farm Sanctuary. Sweden With Love cover image by Elizabeth Messina ©2015.
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