Saturday, November 26, 2011

Farm Sanctuary

Look at this pig's cute little face?

Remember when you were a child and you sang songs like "Old MacDonald" and "Baa Baa Black Sheep", imagining some idyllic pastoral scene? The cows nibbled hay, the pigs rolled around in their mudbath, and the chickens pecked at seeds in the dirt. Sigh! What a beautiful scene? But that ideal picture of Canadiana is reserved for history books. Sigh! Most farm animals are not raised in such natural settings. Instead, they are raised in an industrial complex where pigs lose their "pigmanship" (origin in Farm Sanctuary) and become products of protein and consumption. Chances are Old MacDonald does not own his farm any more and is on contract with a mega-billion dollar agricultural giant to grow thousands of products (read: animals) to industry specifications. He does not own his means of production and had to take hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans to transform his farm into a high-tech operation, loans that he cannot repay, and now he may also be depressed and contemplating suicide. "Old MacDonald's Farm", a family-owned business, simply does not exist any more (or at least becoming extremely rare).

Sometimes I must admit that I feel discouraged being a vegan. Walking from restaurant to restaurant, searching for vegan options, asking a million and one questions about food preparation, bringing my own vegan cheese to an Italian restaurant, going to specialty stores to buy vegan basic essentials, spending extra money on going plant-based ($7 for a microwave dinner, c'mon)... it can feel downright like a hostile environment. So when I read a book like Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food by Gene Baur, my commitment to veganism was renewed. Farm Sanctuary tells about more than thirty years of activism for animal rights, fighting against factory farming and slaughterhouses, rescues, and legislation reforms at all levels of government. Baur begins describing his roots growing up in California of German immigrant parents and his agrarian ancestry. He felt moved to animal activism as he began to examine compassion at all levels and pursued studies in animal sciences. In 1986, Gene, and his wife at the time, founded the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY to "to combat the abuses of factory farming and to encourage a new awareness and understanding about 'farm animals.' At Farm Sanctuary, these animals are our friends, not our food" (source Farm Sanctuary website). Backed with the support of its sponsors and a number of Hollywood celebrities to boot, Baur's efforts have resulted in two farms (a 175-acre shelter in upstate New York and a 300-acre shelter in Orland, California), rescue and adoption programs, and educational resources. What is also really awesome is that you can visit this place in real life which I plan to do (Funky Sexy Manifesto #38).

Unlike my parents who grew up in rural Jamaica, I was not brought up with animals around me (aside from a few pet fish). Until about four years ago, my fiance and I adopted two cats. According to me, "cats are people too". Until I lived with Marcus and Makeda, I was totally unaware of the diverse emotions, vocalizations, uniquenesses, longings, and personalities of cats. Animals are sentient (feeling) beings and somewhere along the line, I think many people, myself included, got disconnected from that fact.

Farm Sanctuary had a lot of details about animal rights laws, legislations, and court cases-- a little too much for my taste. I do not find this information interesting but I think without them the book would not be complete. The legal battles and activism have been a part of Farm Sanctuary from the very beginning.

What I appreciated the most were the animal stories in this book. I felt that Gene Baur creates the picture of an animal's soul. Like us humans, animals have an innate desire to live, avoid pain, and attain its basic needs with as little effort as possible. Through personal stories at the end of each chapter, Baur tells about the various animals rescued and brought to the Farm Sanctuary locations. Each animal has a unique journey back to health (reminds me of someone I know, ahem) and a special name. There is even a sheep named Persia, after one of my favourite vegan animal rights activists, film producer/actress/musician and former star of "Girlfriends", Persia White.

I think one of the reasons that these animal stories speak so much to me is because I am a Black person and I know that not too long ago, there were numerous corrupt institutional systems of power which deemed me and other people of colour as "products" for consumption and unfeeling in nature. When I read about slaughterhouses, factory farms, transportation of animals, forced breeding and confinement, crowding, mutilation, separations of offspring from families, lack of sanitation, drugging, denial of basic care, and other abuses to billions of animals each year, I think of the wrongful capture, enslavement, splitting of families, trans-Atlantic crossing of ships packed with kidnapped people, slavery, rapes, forced breeding and feeding, amputations, executions, unethical experimentations, unhealthy living conditions, unsafe practices, and countless other horrors that have happened to my ancestors and people of African origin. Blacks and other people of colour were also called animals, undeserving of basic dignities and treated in cruel and inhumane ways. Now, the wrongful treatment of people in society has come a long way and laws and regulations have been reformed to reflect this evolved consciousness and compassion for humankind. I think there needs to be a change in the way animals are thought about not as just mere products for human consumption but as sentient conscious beings. I have found that a number of other writers and researchers have found parallels between forms of oppression (e.g., racism, sexism) and the modern factory farming industry as well and I have begun reading one such work which I hope to review shortly.

In August 2011, I had the pleasure of meeting Gene Baur. Here is a link about that encounter. In the meantime, read Farm Sanctuary and be prepared to feel a compassion for animals that you may have never felt before. It will enhance your understanding of the unsustainable and negative impacts that the current practices are having on our environment and health and may cause you to want to do something about it.

Coming up next: Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans speak on Food, Identity, Health and Society by A. Breeze Harper (editor)

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