California Dreaming – Issue 7

There’s a strong case for California to be named vegan capital of the world, so I knew it would be a perfect fit for me, but I planned my trip to visit one place in particular; Farm Sanctuary. I wanted to experience it for myself and find out how it has inspired so many people to take up a vegan diet, open a farm sanctuary of their own, or just take time to think about the lives that the majority of farm animals are subjected to today. Founded in 1986, Farm Sanctuary is the nation’s largest farm animal rescue and protection organisation. They are driven by their inspiring mission: ‘To protect farm animals from cruelty, inspire change in the way society views and treats farm animals, and promote compassionate vegan living.’ The rescued animals live happily at their sanctuaries in Watkins Glen, New York; Northern California or in the Los Angeles area. I visited the latter, which is the smallest of the sanctuaries.

Education is paramount to Farm Sanctuary’s aims and motives. They believe that if people take the time to get to know these animals, they will see that they each have their own unique personalities and feel a broad spectrum of emotions; just like humans. For this reason, Farm Sanctuary holds tours around the sanctuary so you can meet the animals and learn about the inspiring journeys that led each of them here. On a typically hot and sunny Sunday in the heart of California, Kelly, one of the Farm Sanctuary’s dedicated volunteers, showed us around.
First of all I met the pigs, and I was completely taken aback by how huge they were! I’d only ever seen pigs from a distance at farm sanctuaries in England, but we were able to get right in the middle of the resting pigs and even rub their bellies, which they seemed to enjoy. In stark contrast to these peaceful animals, we were shown a cage exactly the size that a pregnant sow on a factory farm would be living in. Kelly explained that this would be the reality for most mother pigs, with no room to walk or even turn around properly, and this fact visibly shocked several of the visitors on our tour.

Next we moved onto the cows, and at this point I began to notice that almost all the animals were gigantic! Kelly explained about mass production, and that, as with most things in America, the common attitude is bigger is better. To keep up with consumer demand, the animals would have been raised using growth additives on the factory farms. Seen as nothing more than a commodity, it is more efficient to produce larger cows, so that more meat is produced. At this point, I really began to think about something that Kelly mentioned at the beginning of the tour; the animals living at Farm Sanctuary are ambassadors for their kind. Although the number of animals here are only the tiniest percentage of farm animals alive today, they represent all those cows, pigs, chickens etc. that are suffering in cramped, horrific factory farms. Here they aren’t seen as simply another commodity, and although originally meant for the food industry, they are thriving in their well-deserved freedom. Pinto, a bull, was going to be used for veal. It was so inspiring to see him having grown to such a phenomenal size, when he was originally only meant to live up to 16-20 weeks old. Like many others on the tour, I took a moment to think about how all the animals here were destined for very different things.

I knew quite a lot about the egg industry prior to my visit; the cruelty that broiler chickens are forced to endure, but it was great seeing the chickens and turkeys at the sanctuary with space to move around and interact with one another. Kelly explained the process of determining the sex of new born chicks, and how male chicks, seen as useless to the industry, are ‘disposed of’ right away. Again produced to satisfy consumer demand, some of the chickens had trouble walking due to being raised on growth additives to expand parts of their body that are more popular to east, such as the breast.

Our last stop was to spend time with the incredibly cheerful goats. These seemed to be the crowd pleasers and were overjoyed with all the attention they were receiving. Although I learned about the lives of animals living on factory farms, the ones living at the sanctuary are ambassadors for their kind, and they are free to not just survive, but thrive. As humans, we’re responsible for the suffering the vast majority of farm animals endure, but we also have the power to stop it simply by going vegan. Witnessing the reaction of the people around me, I left Farm Sanctuary feeling hopeful that these places have the power to spark change.

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