Last month, compassionate people from around the country gathered in New York City for the Farm Sanctuary on the Hudson 2018 Gala. We were honored to have longtime Farm Sanctuary friend and passionate animal advocate Bellamy Young presiding as Gala emcee. Young graciously took time out before the event to chat about her beginnings in the animal protection movement, why she loves being vegan (but wants someone to invent a new name for veganism), her passion for animal rescue, and more.
Farm Sanctuary: You’re from North Carolina, which is one of the largest pork- and chicken-producing states in the nation. How have your experiences shaped your views about your relationships with farm animals and with food in general?
Bellamy Young: I never was interested in meat, not even as a child. Both of my grandfathers had little personal farms. I think as opposed to being anti-animal-productivity, I was just very taken with the organic relationships with plants and sustenance. Nothing tastes like when you walk out in the garden and pick a couple ears of corn and eat them fresh … or tomatoes off the vine or watermelon from the patch. Mmm, that is beautiful food. I think that is what influenced me most, when I was growing up: just the appreciation of true farm-to-table, knowing what it takes to make and grow your food, and knowing how nourishing it feels for your body.
What inspired you to stop eating meat and make the decision to go vegan?
I was a sophomore in college at Yale. I was in line one night for dinner and I decided I’d have the baked breast of chicken. The person working that night plated it sort of awkwardly; as I was lowering it down to my tray it looked just like my mother’s sweet little dog when it would roll over and ask me to pet its little pink tummy. In an instant, I was on the outside of everything — like, if I would not eat that dog, why would I eat this chicken? I just can’t do this anymore.
It was a real learning curve. But you start to get more in touch with your body and my body was so grateful. Immediately, even though I couldn’t figure everything out, I felt lighter and freer and better. My heart was clear, my body was clear. It was the choice that was always waiting for me — I just hadn’t caught up to it yet.
What discoveries have you made along your vegan journey?
As you start living in sync with your heart and your mind, your conscience, and your body, choices are just easy because you know they work for you. And you can feel good about it in a variety of ways — not just in your mind and in your heart, but you can also feel good in your body.
From your perspective, do you think people hesitate to embrace vegan or plant-based labels?
“Vegan” is a difficult word — I find it to be off-putting when people hear it. If a person is not used to thinking in that way I feel like it arrests their thought processes. It doesn’t invite you in, it just stops you somehow. I’ve often longed for a prettier word — for better branding. “Omnivore” is a lovely word, but it can often have hideous meanings. I wish we had a word that invited people in and didn’t seem so all-or-nothing, and they could find their way with the process.
I love “compassionate living”; I love that phrase. “Plant-based,” I thought, was going to get some traction for a while, but I’m still looking. I absolutely always say I’m vegan because I most definitely am, but I’m still waiting for someone to come up with the genius word that unplugs people’s ears and unlocks their hearts. Because all we’re saying is, think about what you’re eating. Don’t let anyone suffer so that you might live, and fuel yourself in the healthiest way possible. That’s a great thing to think about. Even if you can do it three-fifths of the time, it’s better for the planet.
What advice can you offer for those who want to follow your example and make a difference?
Invite people along on the journey, and just encourage everyone to live more mindfully — not just towards animals but towards our planet and towards each other as well. Just really being present and really being mindful about what your life means and how you walk through this short little time we have on this planet. I just want to try and leave the world a little bit better than when I got here, and for me that means doing as little harm and causing as little suffering as possible — and on the other side of the scale, also putting as much love in and encouragement and inclusion as possible. That’s always what I want to do — just invite people along if they want to come on that journey with me.
You’re a strong advocate for fostering and adopting homeless companion animals. What inspired this important work?
I have my wonderful parents to thank, that this was always just the norm in our household. All the animals that I grew up with were rescue animals, and I’m adopted so I always felt deep resonance with those animals. The narrative that my parents gave me as a child was, “You were chosen, we chose you, and how lucky we are to have you and share this love.” And I always felt that was the same for the animals too — we chose them and we were so lucky to share this life with them.
Tell us about the rescued animals you share your life with now.
I have four. Bean is my dog; she’s a Chug. We don’t ask a lady her age, but she’s about 102 and right now she has congestive heart failure. But she’s a trouper, and we’re just taking great care of her and doing everything we can for her. Bean was a foster-fail; I had in my heart and in my mind that she would be the perfect second dog for my mom. When I got home to North Carolina that Christmas, my mom took one look at us and she was like, “That’s your dog,” and I was like, “She is; I love her!” She’s the most angelic little peaceful presence.
I also have three cats. The alpha of the whole lot is Sadie, my old lady cat. She’s a tortie so she’s very chatty. She’s in renal failure but she’s still kicking. Max is her little brother. He’s still very scared of most things, but he’s a honey and beautiful as can be. The last one [Button] chose us. He was feral; I TNR-ed him, but he never left. He just wanted me to sit and talk to him. I couldn’t touch him for months and months and months, but he’d just sit and I would tell him stories and he would listen.
What does your relationship with Farm Sanctuary mean to you?
I have supported Farm Sanctuary since I heard of it. What an incredible concept, and it’s all there in the name — it’s a sanctuary. These animals have gone through so much and lived in such dire, dire fear and known such trauma and cruelty that they should have a haven where they can live out the rest of their days in peace and be loved and love in return. From the moment I heard of it, it just broke my heart wide open.
I felt very blessed that as my career’s gotten better I’ve become more involved with Farm Sanctuary, but they really, really had my heart from the very beginning and I’m so grateful for everything they do.
What will it take for people to embrace a vegan future? Do you foresee this happening during your lifetime?
I don’t know that I have even the hope — although that would be the best — of everyone being completely vegan in my lifetime. But my goodness, I really, really feel there is so much latitude for us to live more compassionately on the planet, in terms of our own personal health and in terms of the hideous cruelties of factory farming. It’s such a toxic, needlessly-cruel-to-all-of-us enterprise.
I just think that one of the only ways forward, as we’re talking about climate change and global climate impact, will be people eating less meat. I think it’s something that will have to happen, and certainly will be better for all of us. I think raising everyone’s consciousness a bit can only do beautiful things. I wish everybody would wake up tomorrow and say, “Oh right, Meatless Mondays — we’ll save the planet!” Honestly, it would make such a difference. If we could all tell five friends, “Just think about what you’re eating and what that means to you and what that means to the planet.” I think little by little, the sense of it will have to go into people’s hearts and move this all along. After all, it’s really just ad campaigns that told us we need meat at every meal, it’s not our bodies.