Last Saturday night my husband put on a tie. This doesn't happen nearly as often as I'd like -- I've long thought someone should publish a Cosmo-style magazine for women called Men in Suits -- but I can count on it once a year for the Farm Sanctuary Gala. Even my home-officed and perennially tee-shirted spouse rises to this occasion because Farm Sanctuary is inspiring. This year's benefit party at Cipriani Wall Street marked 25 years of inspiration, education, and saving lives.
I learned about Farm Sanctuary back in 1986, when its cofounders, Gene Baur and Lorri Houston, were traveling through the country to spark interest in an entirely new kind of animal rights organization, one that would not simply work for change, but that would actually provide sanctuary to some of most abused farm animals.
I lived in Milwaukee at the time and was already a vegan (when the preschool found out there was no cow's milk in my daughter's lunchbox, I thought I'd end up in a Wisconsin prison), but there was an energetic animal protection group there and I was part of it. When Gene and Lorri came through, enthusiastically explaining what they wanted to accomplish, my rational Midwestern colleagues and I just didn't get it. Our reasoning was that since billions of animals were abused each year in the factory farming system, and brutally butchered at the end of their short lives, how much good would come from saving a few?
Farm Sanctuary's co-founders left Milwaukee without a groundswell of support, although we'd all been moved by their idealism and commitment. It didn't take long, however, for the work they'd begun to do to convince us in ways that mere words couldn't, that this was an idea whose time had come. True, Farm Sanctuary and the many other shelters now out there offering permanent loving homes for animals rescued from the agricultural system, can be guardian angels to only a miniscule percentage of these beings. It's like the tale of the man throwing beached starfish back into the ocean after a great storm. He's told that his work has no meaning since he can't save them all. "Well, it means something to this one," he says, as he tosses one more starfish into the sea.
That's what the work of Farm Sanctuary means to the downers, animals too sick and weak to even stand on their own legs at the slaughterhouse, but who now live and thrive at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY, or Orland, CA, and to those who've found homes through Farm Sanctuary's adoption program. It means everything, as well, to the cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, goats, rabbits, and sheep so egregiously abused that even law enforcement has stepped in to help them -- when, in fact, there are almost no animal protection laws that lack a loophole excluding any animal raised as food. But here's what we didn't understand a quarter-century ago back in Milwaukee: the impact of this work doesn't end with the individuals who have been rescued, as precious as each one of those lives is. This work is so much bigger, because each one of those rescued beings is an ambassador for every other farm animal, and he (or she) needs no words to speak eloquently on behalf of all the others.
That Saturday night at Cipriani Wall Street was glittery indeed. There were celebrities -- actors like Eric Roberts and Ally Sheedy, HNN's Jane Velez-Mitchell, bestselling authors like Rory Freedman (Skinny Bitch) and Kathy Freston (The Veganist) -- and they sparkled like the paparazzi's flashbulbs. But the real stars of the evening were the animals, beautifully displayed on big video screens. There were calves like Lawrence, Blitzen, and Alexander, and the four-pound piglet, Petunia, who barely had a chance at life and who now have rich, full earth experiences stretching out before them. There were animals who'd been abused and tortured by humans who'd grown to love the rest of us anyway. These animals are beacons of forgiveness and resilience -- beacons who were almost burgers.
Even though the desire for animal products around the world means that more animals are slaughtered for food than ever before, there's been a small decrease in meat consumption in the US. Most people know how to pronounce the word vegan and define it, too. Ellen, Martha, Oprah, and Dr. Oz have all vegan shows within the past two months. Just this year Time Magazine called Farm Sanctuary cofounder, Gene Baur, "the conscience of the food movement." When legislation is put before voters on the local and state level to ban fois gras, battery cages for chickens, or farrowing stalls for pigs, it meets with a strong fight from industry forces, but nearly always passes. Maybe that's because these animals have faces, and some of them have names, and places like Farm Sanctuary open their doors so that city and suburban folk can meet farm animals and learn how engaging, intelligent, and so like us -- certainly like our beloved pets -- each one of these individuals is. It puts a whole new spin on "What's for dinner?"
Victoria Moran is a holistic health coach and the Oprah-featured author of books including The Love-Powered Diet and Living a Charmed Life. She hosts the "Veg & the City" show on www.HealthyLife.net radio, and her website is www.victoriamoran.com. She'll be one of the speakers at the annual Farm Sanctuary (www.farmsanctuary.org) "Hoe Down" August 5-7 at the Watkins Glen, NY, sanctuary.