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Factory Farm Refugee Camp

In Sustainable Food: How to Buy Right and Spend Less, I write about meat eating and its environmental implications, a complicated and deeply personal issue that can become a heated controversy. Whether you are vegetarian or not, most people can agree that farm animals deserve humane living conditions as well as respect for their gift of food. Encouraging others to eat less meat and purchase a better quality product from a small farm goes a long way toward more ethical treatment of animals and less degradation of the surrounding landscape. Protesting factory farms, with their pollution, tortuous treatment of animals, food safety scares and poor environmental track record is a necessary action for committed environmentalists.

On vacation in the Woodstock, New York area, I recently visited the Farm Animal Sanctuary, a nonprofit organization that shelters, rehabilitates, and cares for so-called “farm animals,” putting a face on our food, and boldly illustrating the difference between raising an animal with dignity and the cruelty of factory farms. During a short tour, I met many goats, chickens and hogs that had been rescued, as well as four Holstein steers, adopted as veal calves. Some animals had been rescued from farms where they were not receiving adequate medical care, and others had been abandoned. Doug Abel, our tour guide, said that roosters are most often in need of new homes. He informed the group about the connection between eggs and the disposal of baby male chicks, as well as the link between dairy farms and the veal industry. In each case, male animals are considered by-products by an industry focused on either eggs or milk.

Up and running since 2004, the Sanctuary works to end the abuse of farm animals through education and outreach. Next to each species’ spacious living quarters, a display of the factory farm alternative offers a sobering comparison. Visitors watching free-ranging hens frolic also see the tiny battery cages where about 12 chickens would be crammed together for their short lives. Next to the comfy wallow enjoyed by the pigs, sits a cramped farrowing crate. Placing the evidence of cold-hearted CAFO practices side-by-side with an idyllic farmyard habitat provides a stark reminder of the two ways a farm animal can be raised, either with humane consideration or cruel calculation.

At the conclusion of the tour, sanctuary staff reminded us that while the best way to end farm animal abuse is through a vegan lifestyle, simply cutting down on your meat consumption also helps, as does sourcing your eggs to free-range chickens and your meat to naturally raised animals.

If you’re concerned about factory farming, you can help the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary educate the public through donations, volunteering or by fostering a farm animal. For more information, visit

Sanctuary staff have found that some male roosters can co-exist peaceably in their “bachelor pads” if there are no hens around to impress.

These 1000 pound hogs eat a commerical feed designed to help them keep a svelte physique, along with the leftovers from a local bakery and juice bar.

Destined to become veal, these four male Holsteins were rescued from dairy farms where they were abused or neglected.

Goat meat consumption is on the rise in the US due to demand from halal restaurants.