It's hard out there for a vegan. And not because vegans or even vegetarians secretly crave the Wendy's Baconater, but because their values clash with the established status quo.
Stereotypes of wan hippies and crazy-eyed activists undermine the concrete moral and ethical issues behind the animal-rights-based movements. It's for this reason that the first few sections of vegan and activist Gene Baur's compelling new book, Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food, are slightly troublesome. Early on, Baur rightly notes that "we do, all too often, accept something – whether it's a product, a piece of information, or food – because it taps into superficial desires or familiar habits and assumptions that are neither healthy, smart, nor in our or others' best interests."
Shortly thereafter he deviates into his own personal backstory, which involves a VW van, veggie dogs and touring with the Grateful Dead – not exactly cliché-busting details. But tofu and the '60s aside, Baur has become one of America's most effective animal-rights proponents over the past 20 years. He co-founded the nonprofit organization Farm Sanctuary in 1986 as a refuge for abused and diseased animals ("downers") trapped in the food-supply chain.
Baur and his team's mission extends far beyond thinking animals are cute and furry and have feelings, too. The mistreatment of animals is also a significant public health issue. In an ongoing battle with the USDA that he chronicles in Farm Sanctuary, Baur writes that livestock "with abscesses, gangrene, hepatitis, pneumonia, peritonitis, and malignant lymphoma were approved for human food, and all of them were entering the food supply."
He laments the decline of the family farm in lieu of corporate agribusinesses, which weigh more heavily the economic cost of losing a diseased goat or pig than the implications of introducing mad cow disease to a hungry public.
"There are a lot of problems with disease and diseased animals entering the food supply, and one of the reasons we may not be aware of these diseases is because quite literally, we're eating the evidence," Baur says.
Baur reads from and signs Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food Mon., April 21, 7:30-9:30 p.m. Borders, 3637 Peachtree Road, Suite C. 404-237-0707. www.farmsanctuary.org.
For a Q&A with Baur, click here.