Published on:

April 7, 2015

Gene Baur on The Daily Show: The Tide is Changing

By Saryta Rodriguez

On last night's episode of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart interviewed Gene Baur, co-founder of Farm Sanctuary and author of the book Living the Farm Sanctuary Life.  This brief but poignant interview, peppered with lighthearted discussions such as the veganness of Baco’s and the (lack of) marketing prowess in the phrase “meatless meats,” addressed the significance of understanding nonhumans’ individuality in order to permanently remove them from your plate, clothing and other products.

Stewart, having recently adopted pigs, admitted “It’s harder to eat meat when you know the animal’s name.” He spoke of how enthusiastically—and audibly—his pigs react when being given snacks, to which Gene replied that pigs and other nonhumans have rich emotional lives and form relationships. Hearing someone on such a widely viewed television show speak of the emotional lives of nonhumans gave me chills. I was also reminded of Frankie.

As The Dodo pointed out, this episode is coming on the heels of an interesting shift in dietary politics. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a federally appointed panel, announced earlier this month that veganism (though they were hesitant to use the word, instead employing the weaker phrase “a diet lower in animal-based foods”) is not only healthier, but also has less of an environmental impact.

In the past, Stewart’s attitude towards animal liberation has been vague. In 1999, he released a “Hastily Thrown Together Editorial” in which he effectively made a mockery of animal activists and non-animal-sympathizers alike. In February 2012, he reported on PETA’s lawsuit against Sea World on behalf of five orcas. Playing off of the fact that it happened to be Black History Month, the segment dismissed the intersectionality between racism and speciesism and accused animal activists of exploiting black history for the sake of publicity.

In last night’s segment, Jon asked Gene “Do you feel the tide changing? It seems like it’s changing.” He was referring to the opinions of the public at large, but I think it’s fair to say that the tide is changing in his own mind, too.  Long respected as a comical yet insightful voice for the left, his past criticisms of animals rights have had perhaps a more significant— or at least a more embarrassing— impact than criticisms by notable conservatives ever could.  From his confused 1999 editorial to his accusatory 2012 segment, he has now come so far as to invite a sanctuary founder and longtime vegan onto his show, and has even adopted pigs with whom to share his home. The latter is, undoubtedly, the strongest reason for his change of mind: a change of heart. Nothing drives home the individuality and sentience of nonhumans like spending time with them.

The tide is indeed changing.  From mainstream media to government committees to doctors, nutritionists and scientists worldwide, veganism is coming to the fore as the solution to many of the world’s ills.  While it is imperative that we build upon this momentum, we mustn’t do so at the cost of the animal liberation message.  For instance, I’d be curious to hear Stewart’s response to current, ongoing demonstrations against Sea World (such as the one taking place this Saturday), which have nothing to do with one’s diet and everything to do with animal exploitation.  Does he now see the connection? Did he always see it, and choose instead in 2012 to explore the issue through the lens he merely presumed most of his audience would employ?

The rise of grassroots activism is spreading the message of animal liberation like wildfire. The message is garnering increasing media attention; for instance, in January 2015 alone, DxE received over fifty press hits globally, including such major news outlets as Mother Jones and The New York Times.

It is reassuring that so many experts are now saying, loud and proud, that veganism is healthier for humans and better for our planet.  Still, at the heart of the matter is, as Gene and Jon both asserted, that animals are individuals— and, as such, they deserve autonomy over their own bodies. We must be ever mindful of this individuality, in humans and nonhumans alike, even as we reinforce the value of community and working together towards a common goal. When animals are viewed as individuals, it is harder to exploit, enslave, sexually violate or murder them. In spite of whatever is said about animal agriculture’s impact on climate change, or the impact of “meat consumption” on the human body, we must always remember that the lives of individuals are at stake.

We must take DxE’s fifth organizing principle to heart and dream big. Our end goal is not to shut down any singular corporation or any one animal-abusive industry, but to see all animals liberated.  To help each individual in need find safe harbor at a sanctuary or in the home of a loving human. Not because it’s healthy, and not because we need water (though that is all true), but because their bodies are not ours to use.