Wednesday, June 10, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Gene Baur

I met Gene Baur about 17 years ago when my husband and I visited Farm Sanctuary in Orland, CA. We were there on a lark, visiting a friend in San Francisco when we decided to try to head over to their location. Somehow or another, they accepted us showing up and while we were in one of the buildings, Gene walked in. I was, frankly, star-struck. His pictures had been in the Farm Sanctuary newsletters I’d been collecting since going vegan a few years before; here was a hero in the flesh standing two feet from me. We will never forget our first visit to Farm Sanctuary and the beautiful animals we met that day – including the cow who head-butted a ram who was charging me – but just as memorable was how accessible, friendly and warm this man who was a pioneer in the animal advocacy movement was. All these years later, Gene is the same person despite all the accolades and the recent attention with his new book and appearance on The Daily Show: he is as affable, unpretentious and fully present as when I first met him. In short, he is a fantastic ambassador for the vegan movement.

Finding and rescuing a dying sheep named Hilda prompted Gene to co-found Farm Sanctuary in 1986, and, with it, he became an inspiration for and trailblazer of the farmed animal sanctuary movement. Today, there are sanctuaries spanning the globe, offering refuge to animals in need, as well as opportunities to influence the public to embrace compassionate living. Gene has also remained very active with the passage of significant animal welfare legal ordinances. With his new bestselling book, Living the Farm Sanctuary Life: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Mindfully, Living Longer, and Feeling Better Every Day, Gene continues to inspire and motivate people with the message of compassionate living and courageous action. For this and more, Gene Baur is a vegan rockstar to know.

1. First of all, we’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out? Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?

My connection with animals started with my beloved cat Tiger when I was a boy. Then, in high school my grandmother told me about veal and I stopped eating it. Finally meeting vegetarians and reading the book Diet for a Small Planet, and learning that I could live well without eating animals led me to go vegan.

2. Imagine that you are pre-vegan again: how could someone have talked to you and what could they have said or shown you that could have been the most effective way to have a positive influence on you moving toward veganism?

I think meeting vegans who demonstrated that this lifestyle is a viable option would have a very positive influence.

3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?

Different people respond to different messages. Some are moved by painful images, but those can also turn people away. I find that the best way to communicate is to try and find common ground and build from there. Increasingly, I’m feeling that humor can play an important role.

4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?

Our passion and enthusiasm are major strengths.

5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?

Sometimes we can let our frustration with the current state of things get the best of us, and we communicate in ways that are not very effective. Many non-vegans assume that being vegan is very difficult, so it’s important for us to try and demonstrate otherwise.

6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.

Depending on who I’m talking too, I sometimes make the case about how animal agriculture is bad for animals, or the earth, own health, or about how great vegan food is becoming, but increasingly I like to ask: “If we can live well and be happy without causing unnecessary harm, why wouldn’t we?”

7. Who are the people and what are the books, films, websites and organizations that have had the greatest influence on your veganism and your continuing evolution?

Diet for a Small Planet and Diet for a New America were influential early on, as was the activist Henry Spira. Today, I travel and meet thousands of people every year who are working to create a kinder world. I have been inspired by and continue learning from many of them. Some are entrepreneurs, others are activists, and others are parents instilling vegan ethics in their children, and some are all of these and more.

8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?

Getting in nature really helps. I also try to run or do some other exercise on a regular basis, to get enough sleep, and to be mindful about taking care of myself. One of the most important ways to stay motivated is to focus on the positive things that are happening and to be heartened by those, as opposed to getting frustrated and depressed about the awful things.

9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?

That farm animals, like animals, have feelings and that their lives and ours are enriched when we regard them as friends, not food.

10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”

“…an aspiration to live as kindly as possible.”

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