Where: Cipriani Wall Street, NYC
When: May 14, 2011
Why: Because Farm Sanctuary is the best place on earth
The Scoop: Everyone was dressed to the nines last Saturday night at the über chic Cipriani Wall Street in New York City for the much-anticipated 25th Anniversary Farm Sanctuary Gala. Co-founder Gene Baur was greeted with cheers as he reported that the number of animals killed in the US for food is going down. This hopeful tidbit was just one of the many moments that garnered enthusiastic feedback from the audience of animal-loving celebrities and passionate supporters—all there to celebrate the nation’s leading farm animal protection organization.
Gene Baur presenting awards
Way back in 1986, one lucky little sheep, Hilda, was lifted off a “dead pile” and given a second chance. At that same moment, a sanctuary, and a movement, were born. Since then, slowly but surely, awareness has risen about the horrors of animal production, largely due to the work of Farm Sanctuary, whose most recent campaign, Plate to Planet, explores the major role that animal agribusiness plays in environmental destruction. Twenty-five years after Hilda’s rescue, Farm Sanctuary provides refuge for hundreds of rescued farm animals at two bustling shelters—one in Watkins Glen, NY, and the other in Orland, Calif.
Celebrity guests were quick to point to Farm Sanctuary’s central role in spreading awareness. According to bestselling author of Veganist, Kathy Freston, the sanctuary movement can change lives. “When you get close up and you see their personalities and their individual characteristics—and their really adorable, hilarious traits—you fall in love with them,” she told me. “And then the next inevitable step is that you don’t want to eat them.”
Me with the lovely Kathy Freston
Indeed, Emmy Award-winning comedienne, Carol Leifer, credited her lightbulb moment to a visit to an animal sanctuary. “I was in the dark,” she said. “I had no idea about the suffering of farm animals. So I took baby steps, but I’m proud to say that a year later, I became vegan.”
Simone Reyes, Russell Simmons' right-hand gal, told me, “Farm Sanctuary is a pioneer in animal rescue. They started a trend of rescuing animals when nobody else was even thinking about it.” Actress Ally Sheedy agreed. “Their educational outreach has been outstanding. People now know what the phrase ‘factory farming’ means.”
Simone Reyes smiling for the camera
As guests dined on the gourmet vegan dinner provided in part by Field Roast, awards were presented to leaders in the movement, including attorney David Wolfson, who offered a touching speech looking back on the ever-changing role that law plays in farm animal reform. Other recipients included Field Roast’s David Lee (whose award was presented by Best Actor Oscar Nominee, Jesse Eisenberg), and Farm Sanctuary’s own shelter director, Susie Coston.
Jesse Eisenberg presenting David Lee's award
Danielle Konya, creator of Vegan Treats and soon-to-be star of her own reality show for Animal Planet, not only provided the outstanding and artistic desserts, but was followed by a camera crew filming her every move. “It’s always good to come back to the face of why I do this bakery,” Konya told me, her camera crew close at hand. “It gets me re-inspired and excited all over again.”
The drool-inducing Vegan Treats table!
Hosts Wendie Malick and Fred Willard kept the event moving with their humor and charm. As Willard told me, his compassion for animals has been a lifelong driving force. “I’ve always felt that animals should be treated kindly. Even when I was a little child, I thought it was important to take care of an animal who was suffering. And I could never understand some people’s cruelty to animals.”
Hosts Wendie Malick and Fred Willard
Most notable perhaps was the palpable sense of hope in the air. Jane Velez-Mitchell—host of HLN’s Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell—put it best, “We’re at a crucial turning point. Things are unbelievably different than they were even five years ago. There’s an acceptance of this as a legitimate movement all across the country. We’re not fringe anymore. We’re mainstream.”
Jane Velez-Mitchell and moi
When asked what’s next for Farm Sanctuary, Gene Baur didn’t flinch. “We’re going to continue rescuing and caring for animals, encouraging people to reshape their relationship with them towards compassion, and away from cruelty and disrespect,” he said, understanding that as far as the movement has come, there’s still a long road ahead when it comes to ending animal cruelty. “It’s an ongoing process.”