The Vegan Society discusses Farm Sanctuary's aims and achievements with the organisation's President and Co-founder Gene Baur, as the Sanctuary's respective branches celebrate their annual Thanksgiving meals – for the turkeys.
Farm Sanctuary was founded in 1986 by Gene Baur and Lorrie Houston, funded initially by a rock scene hungry for the veggie hot dogs Gene would sell outside Grateful Dead concerts. Having grown to be a vast non-profit organisation with a budget of over £5 million, what started as a small New York rescue operation is today large enough to fund three sprawling animal sanctuaries – in New York, northern California and L.A – comprising of over 900 rescued farm animals. When not lobbying businesses and governments over the rights of farm animals, Farm Sanctuary runs tours of its three sanctuaries, encouraging visitors to view farm animals as Someone, Not Something and promoting veganism as a way of life.
Every year, the three sanctuaries aim to provide and promote a different Thanksgiving to the one the majority partake in. While some choose not to celebrate the holiday due to its problematic elements, Farm Sanctuary’s alternative attempts to tackle the animal-cruelty issue by centring the celebration around their guests of honour: the sanctuaries' rescued turkey residents. Feasting on stuffed squash, pumpkin pie and cranberries, the turkeys often surprise the human guests through their amicability, and their love of attention. To mark the festive occasion, The Vegan Society spoke to Gene Baur, President and Co-founder of the organisation, about the event and Farm Sanctuary’s future plans for further outreach.
The Vegan Society: Your Thanksgiving meal for the turkeys is run annually – what gave you the idea in the first place, and how did it coalesce into something concrete?
Gene Baur: Thanksgiving has been a difficult holiday for people who don’t like celebrating over the body of a dead animal in the middle of the table, and we wanted to create an alternative that celebrated living animals instead of dead ones, so we began rescuing and caring for turkeys, and we began celebrating Thanksgiving by feeding them instead of eating them. The first year, we did this in the kitchen of our house, and then at our farms, and it has grown every year.
TVS: Do you know if many visitors to the sanctuaries have been inspired to go vegan as a result of visiting?
GB: It’s impossible to say how many people have been inspired to go vegan as a result of visiting Farm Sanctuary, but it’s in the thousands. Many more who have not visited a sanctuary have been impacted by hearing about the abuses of factory farming, the stories of rescued animals, and the myriad benefits of eating plants instead of animals. Millions of U.S. citizens are now vegan, and tens of millions are eating fewer animal products, so Farm Sanctuary and our colleagues are making significant progress.
TVS: What do you think are Farm Sanctuary’s biggest achievements this year? And to date?
GB: Farm Sanctuary has played a significant role over the past three decades in raising awareness about the abuses of factory farming, which has led to widespread public opposition to industrialized animal agriculture, and we helped pass the first U.S. laws to outlaw cruel factory farming practices. We continue working to raise awareness, and this year, as in the past, have secured international news coverage. This year, we also opened an office in Los Angeles, which will allow us to reach even more people.
TVS: What your plans for the future? Any long term goals?
GB: We will continue working to change how society views and treats farm animals through rescue, education and advocacy efforts. In addition to exposing problems with our current food system, I hope we can play a greater a role in developing a healthier plant based food system. To this end, we are beginning to discuss possibly including permaculture operations at Farm Sanctuary.
TVS: What is Farm Sanctuary thankful for this Thanksgiving?
GB: Farm Sanctuary is grateful for the animals living at our sanctuaries, and for everybody who shares our interest in creating a better food system. We are also thankful for the growing number of plant foods, including holiday roasts that can be used to replace the dead bird as the centrepiece of a Thanksgiving celebration.
Farm Sanctuary’s alternative Thanksgiving celebrations took place this year on November 8 at Orland, California, November 15 at Acton, California and November 22 at Watkins Glen, New York. While you'll have to wait until next November to catch the turkeys chowing down on a festive feast, you can still Adopt A Turkey at Farm Sanctuary this Thanksgiving.
Want to buck the Thanksgiving trend? Why not take our 30 day vegan pledge? With hints, tips and advice every day, you'll find that going vegan is easier than ever before. You can also read up on our festive recipe suggestions here.