Mention "animal rescues" and chances are, you'll think of dogs, cats or even marine mammals — but not farm animals. Author Tracey Stewart, a former veterinary technician, and her spouse, former Daily Show host Jon, have become advocates for abused farm animals. To help Farm Sanctuary celebrate 30 years of rescue, education and advocacy for farm animals, Tracey Stewart is co-chairing and her husband is presenting at the annual Farm Sanctuary gala at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Nov. 12. As a supporter for abused and abandoned animals, Stewart also found an unintended benefit: a path to health and wellness.
You wrote in your book, "Do Unto Animals: A Friendly Guide to How Animals Live, and How We Can Make Their Lives Better," that a dog you adopted in your 20s not only got you out of a bad relationship, but also cemented your belief in the value of mutts and compassion toward all animals. How do you think all the other dogs in your life have contributed to your wellness?
I have 33 non-human animals in my family right now. I love the ones that live in my barns as much as the ones that live in my house, so you can imagine that most of the time my heart is ready to explode with happiness. I do feel surrounded by love and inspiration. I find that my state of mind is pretty damn happy most of the time. I don't focus on my appearance in the same way that I might have several years ago. When I'm in my loose-fitting Carhartts, covered in manure, I think to myself, "Hey, go shop for young and pretty somewhere else. I've got [stuff] to do!!!"
How did you come to be a vegetarian and then a vegan?
Before discovering the simplicity and fun of being vegan, I was an on-again, off-again vegetarian since I was 14. I wasn't a well-informed vegetarian, by any means. I was frightened to know too much about our food systems and every time I'd get a sniffle or cramp I'd misguidedly worry that it was my vegetarianism. My transition to eating vegan probably happened over the period of a month. First I spent time up at Farm Sanctuary falling in love with all the animals and that made me feel ready to learn their full stories. Once I knew better, I had to do better. When I got home, I enlisted a friend of mine that was already vegan to go food shopping with me. She showed me all the substitutes and gave me intel on what was great and what was not. It was shockingly much easier than I thought it would be.
Have you noticed any health benefits from your vegan diet?
I recently had a consultation with a doctor who was looking at my blood work results. She didn't already know I was vegan when she said, "This is impressive. What's your secret?" My secret is that I eat a really healthy whole-foods and plant-based diet. That doesn't mean there isn't a ton for me to eat and that it's not always delicious. I still eat cheese, yogurt, ice cream and milk, only my cheese and yogurt are made from nuts, beans or veggies, and my milk and ice cream are made from almonds, cashews or coconuts. I'm not suffering. I'm not deprived.
You and your family have made a big commitment to helping farm animals. What's the latest?
Three years ago we moved from New York City to the green, green grasses of New Jersey. Contrary to popular belief there is a beautiful expanse of lush greenness in New Jersey. I mean, it is the Garden State. We also acquired a farm here that Farm Sanctuary will be developing into their fourth location. We're excited for this new shelter to teach the interconnectedness of what we eat, where we purchase what we eat, how we produce what we eat and what that means for our health, our environment and our well-being.
Are all of your family members vegans?
My family is at different points in their journey. I'm vegan. My husband is vegetarian. I'll let my kids speak about their diets when they care to. Like me, my son has celiac disease. I don't worry at all about my kids' food choices. Instead, I focus that they are well-informed and feel good and are healthy. My kids are profoundly compassionate and that is what I truly care about.
Thanksgiving has become a time when you advocate for animals at your own table. What is the reaction of guests to your practice of placing at each seat an envelope that contains a profile of a farm animal that they can "adopt" through the Farm Sanctuary's Adopt a Farm Animal Program?
I think you get people to consider making changes when you show them the positive instead of being preachy or shaming. This has become a Thanksgiving tradition that everyone in my family really looks forward to.
For more information about Farm Sanctuary's gala: farmsanctuary.org/2016gala/