About Farm Sanctuary and Bruce Friedrich:
Bruce Friedrich has been on the forefront of the animal rights movement for years. He’s appeared on national television shows like NBC’s Today Show, CNN, FOX News Channel and MSNBC among others, and held lectures and debates on animal rights at Ivy League schools and institutions across the country. His work with Farm Sanctuary, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, has brought attention to the plight of farmed animals around the globe, exposing the cruel practices of industrialized farms.
As Farm Sanctuary’s Senior Director for Strategic Initiatives, what is it you do for the organization?
I have two basic roles: First, I’m in charge of our policy-focused efforts, which includes everything we do that involves legislation or litigation to decrease cruelty to farm animals through government laws and regulations. For example, I was Farm Sanctuary’s point person on a case that we had before the Supreme Court a few months back. The case involved a challenge by the National Meat Association to California’s law that protects animals who are too sick or injured to stand up from being sent to slaughter. The meat industry argued that California’s law is preempted by federal law and we, of course, argued that cruelty to animals laws are traditionally the province of the states—and that California has a right to say that sick and injured animals should not be slaughtered and sold to people for food.
Second, I oversee our strategic vision. One big initiative that we’re working on right now is called “bringing the sanctuary to a broader audience,” and early this year you’ll see the first big program shift as we re-launch our Web site with a major focus on images and videos (like this one ). A visit to one of our sanctuaries is magical for many people, and the thing that often strikes people most profoundly is meeting the animals and learning about who they are as individuals. But of course not everyone is able to make the trip, so we’re going to introduce people to farm animals with what we hope will be very powerful virtual experiences. I hope that readers will bookmark FarmSanctuary.org, and check back in late January for the full-scale relaunch.
What initially drew you to Farm Sanctuary and why is it an important organization in today’s world?
This video introduces who we are and what we do; I encourage readers to watch it. Time Magazine called Farm Sanctuary founder and President Gene Baur “the conscience of the food movement,” and I think that’s apt: Farm Sanctuary focuses on bringing compassion for animals into the discussions about food in a way that is compassionate, honest, and realistic. We work on educating people about the effects of factory farming and the meat industry generally, as well as on human health, our environment, the global poor, and animals. And we work on changing government policy through legislation, litigation, and policy work with regulating agencies. Our base and our founding mission is to do the hands-on care for animals by providing sanctuary to the few who have successfully escaped the fate of our horrible, industrialized food system, and we have the most amazing person in the animal movement in charge of that—Susie Coston, who really is the Jane Goodall of farm animals. It’s that tenet of our mission—to protect farm animals, who are typically forgotten by most people—that grounds the rest of our work and helps us bring these animals back into people’s minds and hearts. It’s very hard to argue that animals who are worthy of a sanctuary’s compassion should be crammed into tiny cages or crates for their entire lives, or should end up on our dinner plates.
I’m convinced that the biggest obstacle to promoting plant-based eating and securing robust legal protection for chickens, pigs, and other farm animals is the inability of so many people to relate to them, and that’s where Farm Sanctuary steps in: We fill that gap by telling the animals’ stories and helping people to understand that each animal is an individual. She is someone, not something.
What motivated you to go vegan? Any tips for those interested in exploring a plant-based diet?
I adopted a vegan diet in 1987 after I read Diet for a Small Planet, a book that makes an exceedingly strong case for eating plants, rather than funneling plants through farm animals, for environmental and global poverty reasons (see the links, above). Basically, it takes exponentially more resources to grow crops in order to feed them to animals, rather than eating the crops directly. In addition to the vast wastefulness of eating meat, our meat consumption drives up prices for grain for the world’s starving. For me, as a human rights activist, that did it: I stopped eating animal products.
Most people find that when they adopt a vegan diet, a whole world of food opens up that they didn’t even know existed. That was true for me: I grew up in Oklahoma, and every meal centered around one of a few dead animals placed on our table. Once I stopped eating meat, I was stunned by the variety of other options I encountered. I guess my top piece of advice for those exploring veganism is to try out ethnic foods: entire sections of most Indian restaurant menus are focused on vegan foods, Thai and Chinese restaurants will always have a range of options, and if you’re lucky enough to live in a city with Ethiopian food, watch out—the vegetarian platters are generally the cheapest combination items on the menu, and they’re spectacular.
You might want to check out a few key books for motivation. My favorites are: Kathy Freston’s The Veganist and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn’s Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease (for health), John Robbins’ The Food Revolution, and Erik Marcus’ Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating for the environment, and Gene Baur’s Farm Sanctuary and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals for animals. And for an all around great read, try Skinny Bitch, by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin; Skinny Bitch is not just for girls—it turned Prince Fielder Vegan! Also check out the cookbooks that I’ve listed below.
Farm Sanctuary holds lots of fun events like the “Celebration FOR the Turkeys” event in November and the “Eggless Easter Celebration.” How has food helped Farm Sanctuary bring people together and build a community?
People often tell us that Farm Sanctuary is a haven for animals and the people who love them. I’ve only been full time with the organization for less than a year, but I’ve been a part of the family for 15, and it was like coming home to join the full time staff. Like most communities, one of the ways we bond is over food. It’s almost funny how obsessed vegans are with food, and Farm Sanctuary is no exception. There is something about the community experience of eating with your friends and family, and one of the awesome things about Farm Sanctuary is that it’s a great big family. So we love to celebrate, and central to our celebrations are the animals we care for and the non-animal foods that we eat. Of course, the Celebration for the Turkeys is a bit unique, in that a key element of that event is the feeding of the turkeys. Turkeys LOVE their food, so watching them eat is a very good time. Readers should check back at FarmSanctuary.org for video of our 2011 event in mid-January. It’s impossible not to smile when watching the turkeys enjoy their feast.
What are some of your favorite foods?
I’m married to the best vegan chef in the movement, so I’m extremely lucky. A few of our favorite meals include traditional Indian meals like chana masala (spicy chick peas) and aloo gobi (spicy cauliflower) and traditional Thai dishes like green curry with vegetables. For quick meals, we love bean burritos with guacamole and salsa, pasta with marinara, and veggie burgers with French fries. Anyone who loves to cook will love being vegan, because the range of options is limitless, and there are some amazing cookbooks that provide wonderful variety. A few of our favorite cookbooks include Chef Tal Ronnen’s Conscious Cook, The Vegan Table by Colleen Patrick Goudreau, and Vegan Planet by Robin Robertson. A great cookbook for simple eating is PETA’s Compassionate Cookbook.
Being able to connect with people is an important part of your position, and Grubwithus is all about allowing people to make new friends! What advice would you give to our Grubbers looking to increase their social circles?
Well adopting a vegan diet basically doubles (or more) the social circles you already inhabit. Of course, you have your current social circle (and any other circle you choose to seek out, from book clubs to political action committees), but veganism opens up a whole new social world, if you want it, because every major city has a Vegan MeetUp (actually, the vast majority of smaller cities also have vegan MeetUps). MeetUp has done wonders for people who are looking to socialize with more people who share their vegan (or any other) values. Activism is also a superb way to meet people, and every major city has at least one vegan advocacy organization that would love to help you help animals. Anyone who wants to get active promoting plant-based eating in their community can shoot me an email (Bruce@farmsanctuary.org) and I’ll let you know who to contact.
Another thing that eating more consciously does is it gives you an instant topic of conversation for your next bowling night or MoveOn.org call night—the fantastic plant-based food that you brought along to share. In a book that I wrote for animal activists with Vegan Outreach founder and President Matt Ball, one of the things we stress is the importance of retaining all of your current social circles (and developing new ones that don’t center on animals), and then bringing along your compassion for animals (and great vegan food). I am constantly engaging in compelling conversations at “mainstream” dinner parties about why I brought along two veggie dishes or about why I passed on the roast beef. Being vegan is an expression of kindness to others with whom we share our world and almost everyone can agree that we could use more of that. I find it can help me connect with others in a very authentic way, which can open up the door to rich friendships.