Gene Bauston is a vegan starved for change.
The animal rights activist has lived without dairy and meat for 20 years — which made for an interesting clash of cultures at a campus appearance Tuesday night before a roomful of meat eaters and future farmers in Neff Auditorium.
Bauston lectured on the perils of factory farming at the request of Students for Ethical Animal Treatment. His idea: to phase out meat and turn more farms into vegan operations.
But some audience members, agriculture students who seemed to be attending the lecture mainly for extra credit, weren’t always receptive to his message. Obviously upset with Bauston’s remarks, two left before the lecture ended.
James Sherwood, an MU senior and agricultural business major, also disagreed with Bauston.
“A lot of the small farms do not treat the animals like he said,” said Sherwood, who worked on a farm in Kahoka. “I didn’t take it personally, but some of his information is outdated.”
Bauston, who holds a master’s degree in agricultural economics from Cornell University, is co-founder and president of Farm Sanctuary, a group with a 175-acre shelter in upstate New York and a 300-acre shelter in northern California.
“I just want to make clear that vegetarians and vegans are not anti-human,” said Bauston. “Our goal is to prevent suffering.”
Some proponents of Bauston’s efforts, which include support for new laws regulating the treatment of animals that can no longer walk, were excited and moved by his dedication.
“He is incredible,” said Julie Schultz, a Columbia resident who said she has been a vegetarian for five years. “He is from a very successful group that has lobbied and done a lot for animal rights. It’s just an inspiration.”
Each year during Thanksgiving, Schultz adopts a turkey for $20 from Farm Sanctuary. This fund-raising event, in which sponsors feed a turkey rather than eat it, is one way animal activists can participate. To support the farm when it opened, Bauston and his wife sold tofu hot dogs at Grateful Dead concerts.
Bauston began the conversion to a vegan lifestyle — in which he eats no meat or dairy products — after seeing what he called a carcass on his mother’s dinner table. It was supposed to be a turkey dinner. By the end of five years, he had eliminated meat from his diet. Since then, Bauston has visited farms, stockyards and slaughterhouses to document conditions and expose some of the harsh cruelties he said can be found at factory farms.
“I have seen live chicks in Dumpsters. I have seen live chicks going (into a machine) to be spread as manure,” Bauston said. “The methods of disposing them are pretty gruesome. And because (the chicks) are worth zero dollars, it’s conducted in the most expeditious way, whether or not it’s humane.”
Bauston said he thinks the United States can produce and feed more people if farmers grow vegetables instead of raising animals for food.
“Consumers don’t accept some of the practices that have become common on farms,” Bauston said. “Change is difficult, but change is inevitable. And the question is, what kind of change are we going to see.”