Gene Bauston is the co-founder and president of Farm Sanctuary, a New York-based vegan organization boasting more than 100,000 members. The group is currently regarded as the nation’s largest farm animal rescue and protection organization. On Jan. 18, Bauston spoke on the relationship between farm animal slaughter practices and society as a whole at the Cameron Center as part of the Vegetarian Society of Hawai’i’s monthly lecture series. Recently I had the chance to talk with Bauston on his thoughts about food and food choices.
MAUITIMEWEEKLY: Why did you start Farm Sanctuary in 1986?
GENEBAUSTON: At the time not much attention was being given to farming practices. As I began visiting farms, I noticed the alarming number of animals being disposed of in trash piles. One day I noticed a sheep named Hilda lying passed out but alive on top of a mound of dead farm animals. She was being transported in a truck with many of the other animals in the pile when she passed out due to the poor conditions. The owners thought she was dead so they threw her in their dead pile behind the barn. I took her home and nursed her back to health. Since then we’ve continued to rescue farm animals in need.
What are your thoughts on eating local and/or organic foods?
Food choices affect our health and wellbeing. They also have a direct effect on farming, farmers, other producers and policies. When you buy organic or local foods you are supporting people concerned with the quality of their product, the treatment of their animals and their impact on the environment. Everything you eat has a significant impact—not just on your body but also on your surroundings, which is why we encourage people to adhere to either a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Have you always been a vegan?
I’ve been a vegan since 1985. I grew up in L.A. eating meat like most people. As I got older and became more informed through reading and talking to people on farms and about farming, environmental pollution and work standards, I naturally gravitated towards a vegan diet. There was also a day during this transition when I saw a dead chicken lying on its back with its legs in the air and I decided, “I don’t want to eat that anymore.”
What are your thoughts on organic meat?
With the growing concerns over Mad Cow [Disease] and other pathogens, more people are turning to organic meat. It’s definitely better than industrially farmed meat. Each time you substitute organic meat or vegetables for industrially farmed meat that’s a step in the right direction. Like I said before, we advocate a vegan lifestyle because we think it’s best but everyone needs to make their own decision. There’s no right answer for everyone. It’s more important that you’re conscious of what you eat than whether or not you’re a vegan or vegetarian. MTW