Book Review: Living The Farm Sanctuary Life by Gene Baur


Since he was a youngster, Gene Baur has loved animals. Like most of us, he loved his pets, particularly his early childhood feline friend named Tiger, though he hadn’t yet made the connection between the animals he saw and the animals he ate. As he moved through adolescence his passion for animals and their welfare continued to grow, leading to the formation of his first animal sanctuary in 1986. Now with over 30 years of activism and a powerful commitment to animal rights, Gene Baur is at the forefront of the the movement. With his seminal book “Living The Farm Sanctuary Life”, Baur recants the story of his origins in animal activism and onward to the creation sanctuaries in New York and California. The book is coauthored by Gene Stone, author of “Forks Over Knives”, but it’s Baur who really takes the lead in the narrative. Since the books 2015 publication, Farm Sanctuary has opened a third location and continues to house, protect and care for thousands of animals who would have had their lives ended in terribly cruel ways without the sanctuary’s intervention.
Farm Sanctuary serves many purposes, the most prominent one being the rescue of animals, though the sanctuaries are also used as education centers. Since they’ve opened they’ve had hundreds of thousand of visitors who all get to interact with animals commonly view as food sources.

“Because Farm Sanctuary offers a view of the world so different from what we see in most of our everyday lives, visitors here seldom leave without having some kind of transformational experience.” – Gene Baur

As research progresses we’re learning that pigs have an intelligence comparable to that of dogs and even primates. Seeing the intelligence, personality and the beauty of these animals in person is a compelling way to bring home the understanding that these animals are someone, not something. This is what Farm Sanctuary is all about. It’s not your typical outspoken vegan group. They just want people to have a better understanding of what these animals being consumed are really like, then make more informed decisions after having mindful connections to these magnificent creatures, who bear many striking similarities to humans.

After 2 years of raising animals for their meat, a farmer by the name of Bob Comis had a revelatory experience after receiving a smaller pig that needed some extra help. Sympathy is best kept at by in the hog farming industry but in this instance Comis couldn’t deny his pangs to help this little pig who was going through life threatening health problems.

“He was staring right at me. I could see fear, but I could also see, and perhaps I was imagining it, imploration. I believe he knew that he was dying, that he didn’t want to die, and that out of the depths of his eyes – barely distinguishable in richness from human eyes – he was asking me to help him, to keep him alive.” – Bob Comis

After raising and killing 2,000 pigs, Bob Comis stopped farming animals and became vegetarian. Simply put, could not let his actions progress out of alignment with his personal values.

Eating in accordance with your values brings profound harmony, not only in the world, but in ourselves. Whether it begins with incremental shifts or going full vegan, moving in the direction towards a more compassionate and mindful way of eating is both healing and restorative.

As animals and their byproducts get less and less space on the plate, that means more plants foods will be taking their place. This is generally a good shift, though there’s certainly plenty of vegan junk food on the market. So while letting go of animal products and learning new culinary practices, I recommend taking a look at the source and ingredients of all foods in our diet.

From a consumer standpoint, this book is a tremendous value. The first hundred plus pages are filled with the story of the sanctuaries, their philosophy and personal anecdotes from people and animals impacted by their work. After those pages, there’s another 200 or so of recipes and photographs that highlight the delicious side of a cruelty free, plant based lifestyle. Most of the recipes are great ,though I’m not a big fan of the frequent reliance on processed foods, if they are vegan. Vegan versions of mayonnaise, cheese and butter are excellent for creating authentic tasting replications of old favorites but they generally aren’t worthwhile foods to form new dietary habits around. They can certainly be a helpful crutch during what can be a pretty major transition, but I see them more as a stepping stone, not something to fixate on.

There’s over 100 recipes in the book contributed from a wide range of authors, from renowned chefs, including Matthew Kenney who I personally admire, to more well known cultural personalities like Ellen DeGeneres, Moby and Twitter founder Biz Stone, who actually became vegan after visiting Farm Sanctuary. By having an assortment of recipes compiled together from so many different sources, the book offers more than just a diversity in tastes, but skill level as well. The 5 recipes below are just a few of the dozens that really stood out to me because of their unique use of whole food, plant based ingredients and easy going means of production. You’ll have to pick up the book to get the full recipes, but I assure you, these 5 are just the tip of the iceberg.

Hakuna (“No Worries”) Frittata by Alka Chandna

When I initially went vegetarian, I leaned on eggs pretty hard and the first real meal I learned to make was a frittata. Frittatas are a great catch-all for anything you’d like to use up in the fridge and something I routinely made as a means of trying out new ingredients I’d never really worked with, or even tasted before. This plant based alternative to the egg-centric version is a fantastic way to get the joy of frittatas without the heaviness and cruelty that often come along with the traditional egg based version. If you wanted it to pick up that classic look you can add a bit of turmeric powder to get a more yellow color.

Bangkok Butternut Squash Chowder by David Silver

I’m a sucker for anything spicy, but this recipe is much more than just a capsaicin delivery vehicle. By using butternut squash and coconut milk, a delightfully creamy texture is achieved without having to use any dairy products. Silver has this dish on the menu of his cafe Second Helping in Brooklyn for more than a decade and it’s easy to see why. This is the perfect type of dish to make a big batch of to have some meals ready for later on.

Aloo Mattar – Potatoes and Green Peas in a Curry Tomato Sauce by Darshana Thanker

Whenever I see a curry recipe that uses a culmination of herbs and spices to create the desired flavor rather than opting for a curry powder, I’m on board. Through following several recipes from Richa Hingle of Vegan Richa I learned that a good curry has layers and this recipe, which was passed down to Darshana by her mother, is a shining example of that. The balance of hearty potatoes and exuberantly nutrient-rich peas make this a nourishing and budget friendly dish that’s relatively easy to make.

Cuban-Gone-Conscious Black Beans and Quinoa by Angela Carrasco & Sam Polk

Cuban food is most definitely not synonymous with plant based dishes, but this vegan twist on a Cuban classic marries the best of both worlds by pairing all those time-honored flavors and techniques with satisfying ingredients like black beans, corn and the notoriously powerful superfood, quinoa. Sam Polk is a former Wall Street executive who left his corporate job to form Groceryships in Los Angles which provides low income families, often struggling with obesity, with healthy, affordable foods and this recipe is a shining example of what can be done without spending much on ingredients. This particular dish was inspired by Carrasco’s grandmother and is a dish that’s light on the budget, but not on flavor or nutrition.

Ultra Meatless Tempeh Loaf by Rich Roll

When I was growing up, meatloaf was a staple in our home. It’s filling, makes great leftovers and can by modified to suit a wide variety of pallets. With this recipe, ultramarthoner and author Rich Roll provides an authentic alternative that’s easy to make and loaded with flavor. Much like burgers, I think it’s the form and flavors that are most loved about this type of dish, rather than the meat that they’re often comprised of. The texture, taste and presentation are replicated to a tee here using tempeh to achieve that archetypical meatiness. I think tempeh is an underutilized substitute for meat and I love it’s application in this recipe. Tempeh is soy based and unlike seitan or other recently created and gluten based products, it’s been around for centuries and is cultivated through fermentation, a process I adore. The tempeh, along with a handful of other veggies, nuts and flavors culminate in a deeply satisfying plant based take on a dish quintessential to dinner tables across the country.

There’s a lot to love about this book and whether you pick up a copy, check out their website or visit one of their locations, any type of interaction with Farm Sanctuary is sure to be an insightful one. Gene Baur, and the whole team behind Farm Sanctuary, continue to do immensely important work. By purchasing this book, you’re not only getting the joy of it’s message and contents, you’re supporting their efforts to save thousands of animals, educate people in droves and make incalculable positive environmental impacts. The blend of education, photography and recipes result in a book that should be in anyone’s library who wants to eat more mindfully and deepen their understanding of what the life of an animal can be.

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