Why did you go vegan and what was that experience like?
I went vegan in 1985 after learning about the cruelty and inefficiency of factory farming and recognizing that I didn’t need to eat animal foods to live well. The decision felt good, and it was easy to stay on track, even though finding vegan options was challenging in the 1980s. I spent lots of time with fellow vegans, and we supported each other, which helped a lot. One friend used to buy vegan cheese in bulk and parcel it out. We used to participate in buying clubs to get staple foods, and we’d even make our own seitan on occasion. I felt empowered to live in a way that was aligned with my values.
What impact has being vegan had in your life?
Being vegan is one of best decisions I’ve ever made, and it helped inspire me to co-found Farm Sanctuary in 1986. As a vegan, I consciously aspire to live as compassionately as possible, while lightening my footprint on the planet. Vegan lifestyles acknowledge our connection with others and our shared interests.
What motivates you to stay vegan?
I believe the vegan lifestyle enhances our species (and other species) ability to survive and thrive on earth. It is ecologically and ethically sound, and an integral part of our evolution. I believe that being vegan brings out the best of our humanity.
How did you learn about factory farming? Was there a specific moment or event were that happened?
In the early to mid-1980s, I started working with various environmental and public interest groups, including Greenpeace, and, I hitchhiked around the U.S., visiting farms and other communities. I learned about factory farming and the inefficiency of animal farming from people involved in environmental and related causes, and I learned about the callousness of agriculture from first-hand observations. I had studied sociology in college, where I read about and was enamored by the Amish, who I believed were gentle farmers and nonviolent pacifists. When I travelled through Amish country, I saw instead the harshness of these so-called gentle people. Women were treated badly, and so were the animals, including horses, who would sometimes be worked to death. My idealistic perception of the Amish, and farming more generally, changed.
I try to be a positive ambassador for the vegan lifestyle, especially among non-vegans, which has led me to try and understand and respect others’ perspectives, especially when they are different than mine. I like to quote Ben Franklin who said “if everybody thinks the same way, then nobody is thinking”. I believe people generally want to live without causing harm to others (including animals), and when provided information in a nonjudgmental way, most will tend to make more compassionate choices. Take small steps in a positive direction and build momentum that can lead to big changes over time, both individually and collectively.
You can find out more about Gene and Farm Sanctuary at: