BOOKS: Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts & Minds
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2008:
Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts & Minds
About Animals & Food by Gene Baur
Touchstone Books (1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY
10020), 2008. Hardcover, 286 pages. $25.00.
“Gene Baur grew up in Hollywood, California, where he
worked as an extra in television, films, and commercials,
including several spots for McDonald’s and other fast food chains,”
opens his brief back-page biography in Farm Sanctuary: Changing
Hearts & Minds . Baur might have pursued a screen career. Instead,
as a teenager Baur heard from his grandmother about veal calf crating
and briefly became a vegatarian. Baur became a committed vegetarian
in 1985 after meeting his future wife Lorri during a summer stint
working for Greenpeace in Chicago.
They began their careers in animal advocacy together in
Washington D.C. about six months later. Working initially for other
organizations, they incorporated Farm Sanctuary in April 1986. By
1996 Farm Sanctuary operated sanctuaries in both upstate New York and
northern California, and had long since become the second largest
farm animal advocacy group in the world, trailing only Compassion In
World Farming, of Britain.
When Gene and Lorri split, the outcome was growth by
division, as she soon founded Animal Acres to do parallel work in
Farm Sanctuary has not succeeded simply because it took up
the issues involving the most animals at the right time and place.
Farm Animal Reform Movement, founded and still headed by Alex
Hershaft, had almost a 10-year head start, and has organized
conferences, beginning in 1981, which have been catalysts to the
entire animal rights movement.
Baur acknowledges the influence of the late Henry Spira’s
Coalition for Nonviolent Food–as does virtually every other leader
in activism on behalf of farm animals.
The Humane Farming Association, two years older than Farm
Sanctuary, has over the years demonstrated superior investigative
skill and political analysis.
United Poultry Concerns and Compassion Over Killing have led
breaking-edge efforts on behalf of chickens.
But Farm Sanctuary, years before the Best Friends Animal
Society took a similar approach to campaigning for “No More Homeless
Pets,” learned to attract and educate visitors by the tens of
thousands, by giving them a good time with well-treated animals in
the sort of bucolic environment that most people imagine “family
farms” once were.
In truth, the neat, clean family farm where all the animals
were happy until slaughter was chiefly a creation of early mail order
catalogs, published to sell products to hard-scrabbling farm
families on the premise that they could become as comfortable as the
folks in the illustrations. The food industry later appropriated the
catalog images, and still hides behind them. Now Farm Sanctuary
turns those images against factory farming.
Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts & Minds deftly breaks up the
bad news about how animals suffer in agribusiness with feel-good
stories about animals that the organization has rescued.
It is not the definitive history of Farm Sanctuary. Indeed,
it omits any discussion in depth of Baur’s long record of political
blunders. Two full-page ads placed by the Humane Farming Association
in the July/August 2008 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE detailed how Farm
Sanctuary earlier this year misrepresented as a “victory” a New
Jersey Supreme Court ruling which was in truth a significant setback.
Thirteen years earlier Farm Sanctuary declared “victory” over the
passage of a supposed “anti-downer” bill in California that the
Humane Farming Associ-ation accurately predicted would not be
enforced. In between, Farm Sanctuary was fined $50,000 for
egregious violations of federal election law in Florida.
A good book now, Farm Sanctuary might have been a great book
if Baur had forthrightly reviewed his mistakes. Much strategic
wisdom could be gained thereby, if Baur recognized the blunders for
what they were.