WERE YOU shocked to hear about Jon Stewart's post-"Daily-Show" plan to join his Philly-born wife, Tracey Stewart, in running a farm for rescued animals?
It was no surprise to Gene Baur, who has helped reshape attitudes - the Stewarts' and many others' - about food and animals since cofounding the first Farm Sanctuary for rescued farm animals almost 30 years ago.
Baur was a recent "Daily Show" guest, and when I inquired, postinterview, about reports that his first book, Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food, was a major influence on the Stewarts, he shrugged off the credit, saying, "All of us here at Farm Sanctuary are very grateful to the Stewarts." The couple will be honored in October at the Farm Sanctuary Gala at The Plaza in New York City.
Baur spent a good deal of his early years as an activist, along with sanctuary co-founder Lorri Houston, in and around Philly. He'll be back in town on June 6 for VegFest (see below).
We talked by phone recently about Baur's advocacy approach and about his new book from Rodale, co-authored with Gene Stone, Living the Farm Sanctuary Life: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Mindfully, Living Longer, and Feeling Better Every Day. It contains 100 recipes, including one from Philly vegan restaurant Vedge. Here's an edited transcript of our conversation:
Q: This book features an impressive lineup of chefs. Did you have a favorite recipe?
A: (Laughs) Oh, no! That might be great, to pick the Philly one, Vedge. [But] I think they're all great.
Q: So have you been to Vedge?
A: I have not, but I am locked in on my calendar to be there the night before VegFest! I'm very excited about it.
Q: Is the spread of vegan eating going to encourage people to think in a big-picture vegan way?
A: Yes. There's a movement now in Philly and in other cities, too, to provide upscale and incredibly satisfying vegan cuisine. I think that's a big development. And then the vegan cheeses coming out. Miyoko Schinner's come up with some great ones, and other companies, as well.
We like to think in a high-minded way about how people are going to behave according to their aspirations and values, and people want to do that. But realistically, the role of tasty, satisfying food is pretty important.
Q: What's your favorite food?
A: I have one of my recipes in the book, a special thing I do on weekends when I don't have to rush to be anywhere. I make scrambled tofu. Also, when I'm training - I've been doing marathons, and I did an Ironman Triathlon recently - I'm very focused on high-quality nutrition, so lots of greens, green smoothies.
I've been eating more fruits and vegetables - I really try to follow the Forks Over Knives recommendation.
Q: Your first book was a memoir. This one combines memoir, recipes and lifestyle how-to. Was that an intentional mix?
A: I think the new book reflects an evolution in our movement, actually. The first book was largely the history of Farm Sanctuary, a discussion of going into factory farms and more of a description of the problems with the animal-agriculture system.
This new book is for a broader audience and it's more of a how-to. It sort of assumes that people already have some general awareness of the problems of factory farming. It focuses more on what you, the reader, can do. It's really for everybody interested in living more mindfully, more healthfully and living in alignment with their own values.
Q: You were living in Wilmington when you started rescuing animals. Hilda, the famous first sheep, was found at a stockyard in Lancaster. Any particular memories from your time here?
A: The way we funded the organization in the early days was by selling veggie dogs at Grateful Dead shows out of our Volkswagen van. We spent a lot of time in the Spectrum parking lot, and I remember one time Pierre Robert, the [WMMR-FM] radio guy, came by and had a veggie dog.
Q: Establishing a farm sanctuary was a big step that others have followed. Did you see that as a way to change attitudes about food and animals, or just a way to help those that needed it?
A: A little of both. When we started in 1986, we didn't have a long-term vision of what the organization would be; we just responded to different needs in the moment. You find a [live] animal on a pile of dead animals, you take it home, you know, pretty soon you need more space so you get a farm. People want to visit, they want to hear about the animals, so you create a visitor program.
So, it's really been an evolution, and part of that is other people setting up sanctuaries, as well. I think that's a very positive sign. It shows people are re-evaluating our relationship with farm animals. This all boils down to our relationship with other animals: Is it based on respect or exploitation?
One thing that we have done, and others are doing it, too, is we model a different kind of relationship, one where the animals are our friends, not our food. Human beings like animals, and we tend to do what we see other people do. So, just doing this, I think, helped set an example that's now spreading.
Q: Do you worry about people seeing animals like this could think, "Oh, good thing they're not in a factory farm, I'll be sure to eat meat, milk and eggs from non-factory-farmed animals"?
A: We're very explicit about saying here the animals are our friends, not our food. If people see pictures put out by farms trying to sell this notion that animals can be raised and killed and consumed in a humane, respectful way - well, in my view, the words "humane" and "slaughter" do not sit well together.
Often these labels that say animals are "treated humanely" or in a "free-range" situation sound a lot better than they really are.
Q: What's your next challenge?
A: We'll continue rescuing animals, educating people and advocating for reform to our food system. With the momentum of great vegan food, and also elite athletes talking about the benefits of plant-based eating, I think we're at a time now where there is a convergence of issues. I see us connecting more with environmental organizations, health organizations and other aligned interests and helping all that continue to expand.
V for Verity: Scientist and best-selling author (The China Study) T. Colin Campbell will be at United Artists King of Prussia at 7 tonight for a screening of the new documentary "PlantPure Nation," a look at what's hindering education about the benefits of plant-based nutrition.
A GRASS (AND OTHER) ROOTS MOVEMENT
Philly VegFest 2015 will be held at Clark Park, 43rd Street and Baltimore Avenue, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 6. It's free and open to the public.
The event is "a celebration of the positive impacts of a vegetarian or vegan diet." Speakers will include Farm Sanctuary co-founder Gene Baur, raw-food expert Nwenna Kai, and author and chef Mary Lawrence.
Sample goodies from V Street, Blackbird Pizzeria, Whole Foods, Mom's Organic Market, Kung Fu Hoagies, MomPops vegan ice pops and Sip N Glo juicery. Nonfood exhibitors include the Indraloka Animal Sanctuary, which is near Scranton, and all-vegan Grape Cat clothing and accessories.
There will be a vegan hot-dog-eating contest, music by Blu Hipp, a kids' area and a dog-friendly area.
Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist,
writer, musician and 12-year vegan.
"V for Veg" chronicles plant-based
eating in and around Philadelphia.
@V4Veg on Twitter.