Vegan Thanksgiving happens Saturday, Nov. 13 at 2531 S. 400 E. Photo: Bryan Mayrose
Thanksgiving: A holiday celebrated by Americans in memory of that glorious, seventeenth-century day on Plymouth Rock when our freedom-seeking, albeit delusional, ancestors sat down with their friendly neighborhood Noble Savages to feast and thank the almighty Lord for allowing them to survive so that they might pillage and rape this new land and its unworthy inhabitants. Well, that’s the story I put together between preschool craft time and a college diversity course. Whether the “pilgrims and injuns” really did stuff themselves until they had to unwrap their loincloths and unclasp their garters isn’t important to this story. Neither is football, Black Friday or giant parading balloons. This is a story about giving back, about the faces behind the feast, about a group of people who reclaimed Thanksgiving, cut out the hypocrisy and made it a holiday worthy of celebration. This is the story of Ching Farm Rescue & Sanctuary and its 12th annual Vegan Thanksgiving Dinner.
In 1998, Faith and Mike Ching bought five acres in Herriman, Utah to provide a safe haven for animals headed to the slaughterhouse and, eventually, your dinner plate. What’s so special about chickens and cows, you might wonder? Executive Director Faith Ching explains, “We try to educate people on how farm animals have exactly the same emotional needs as cats and dogs. If you were to raise a lamb, or sheep, or goat and treat them like a companion animal, that’s how they [would] act.” The food game changes a bit when it’s puppy burgers and kitty nuggets, huh? From horses, pigs and sheep, to ostriches, emus, chickens and more, the Ching Farm is home to over 200 rescued animals, most of whom spend their entire lives at the sanctuary. The animals are obtained from feedlots, auctions, research labs, overburdened shelters and anywhere else help is needed. “The ones we rescue are the ones no one else wants, and they hopefully will die of old age here,” Ching says. “Farm animals are harder to give away than cats and dogs ‘cause people want to eat them. We focus on the sanctuary. However, we do adopt animals out.” This is, of course, only after their high standards and criteria are met, which include a written application and a home visit. All of the animals are spayed or neutered, whether they are entering or exiting the sanctuary. This practice assures that no more animals are produced to be killed or mistreated, as well as to help balance the sanctuary’s expenses and labor management, which are based completely on private donations and volunteer work.
It’s in their continuous efforts to raise money and assemble volunteers that you may have heard of the Ching Farm (the only animal sanctuary in Utah, I might add), and more so on account of the Herriman fire that recently threatened the farm and forced its evacuation. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, on September 19, machine-gun sparks from Camp Williams started a fire that blazed towards Herriman, getting as close as 400 yards from the sanctuary. Faith Ching started giving out masks to her volunteers that afternoon due to the smoky conditions, but soon realized the farm was in danger. Phone calls were made and the word spread though texts and Facebook calling for help. Over 200 people showed up in a six-to-eight hour period, many with no experience whatsoever, but ready to help in any way they could. The Silver Spurs All Ladies Riding Club and the Jordan Applied Technology Center Vet Techs supplied over 20 horse trailers, and with everyone’s help, about 150 animals were moved to safety. “It restored my faith in humanity … Being on this end, where we’re rescuing, you become cynical,” says Ching. “There were people here that I didn’t even know.” Thanks to the firefighting efforts of local law enforcement and the National Guard, the farm was left untouched by the flames. Though the help came free of charge by the generous volunteers, the stress and noise of the sudden crowd and firefighting helicopters flying 20 feet above their heads made the animals nervous, which caused damage to some of the fences and brought Ching to the realization that the farm needed to be better prepared and better equipped for emergencies. This led to an increase in fundraising efforts, which included an art and fashion show sponsored by the Patrick Moore Gallery at Area 51 back in September, a 5k/10k Run/Walk in Memory Grove, as well as a weekly Sunday brunch at the River House sponsored by SLC Vegan Drinks. The money raised will go to fixing and fortifying fences, making the farm’s exits and entrances more accessible and trailer-friendly and organizing a more detailed evacuation plan. Any additional money raised will go towards feeding the animals, which costs about $4,000 a month, not including the $200-500 vet bill and the mortgage. And you thought your cable was a little pricey this month?
Moving forward a tradition of kindness, respect and equality among all living things, the Ching Farm started Vegan Thanksgiving as a means to fund their enlightened endeavor. Celebrating its twelfth year, the feast features all of the food you long to stuff your face with on Turkey Day, minus the blood, flesh, torture and environmental desecration, aka vegan-style. For those of you who may have been raised by elephants (in which case you’re probably vegan, you just didn’t know it), veganism means a lot of different things for a lot of different people, but the basics consist of abstaining from eating and buying meat and animal byproducts, which include dairy and eggs. What the fuck, right? No lard-covered turkey and honey-glazed pig carcass with a side of scrambled chicken turds on Thanksgiving?! Oh don’t you worry, Sage’s Café provides the faux turkey and gravy guaranteed to put your Puritan ancestors to shame. Whole Foods also contributes to the buffet-style, all-inclusive family feast, prepared exclusively by the loving hands of smiling volunteers. I don’t know about your moms and grandmothers, but mine are not to be crossed after four hours of turkey basting. Yet another reason for many vegans to attend this guilt-free gluttony is the chance to celebrate a holiday with like-minded peeps, rather than picking at a plate of rice and beans in the case their family gathering is not as animal-friendly. “It’s amazing, we get a huge turnout. It’s a real tradition for a lot of people now,” says Ching. “A lot of families find themselves not being able to eat a lot, even though they enjoy their family’s company. Vegan Thanksgiving gives everyone a chance to have a full-blown holiday … It feels like an old fashioned Thanksgiving, but vegan.”
All sarcasm aside, you can’t ignore the fact that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for someone to consume a beloved friend, which is what these animals have come to be for those involved with the Ching Farm, and even those who just visit. The farm offers tours every two weeks, which you can sign up for on their website, and welcomes visitors and volunteers of every diet and lifestyle. “A lot of our volunteers are meat eaters, we don’t discriminate,” says Ching. “Veganism to me is showing compassion to every living thing. A lot of people that have never thought of stopping eating meat have come here saying, ‘I’d never consider vegetarianism,’ then stop eating meat once they start volunteering here for a while.”
The Ching Farm is filled to capacity at the moment, so you can help them feed and shelter their friendly inhabitants by attending one of their many fundraising events, donating your time or money by visiting their website (chingsanctuary.org) and taking their monthly vegan cooking class at Sunflower Market, 6284 S. State. Vegan Thanksgiving is on Saturday, Nov. 13 at 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Columbus Community Center, 2531 S. 400 E., and will feature a delicious holiday dinner along with a guest speaker and silent auction. The event is $20 for adults, $15 for children 12 and under and a $1 discount will be offered to anyone who donates a blanket for the pigs. All proceeds from Vegan Thanksgiving go to pay for winter hay for the horses, cattle, sheep, goats and llamas. Also, keep a look out for more information on their seven-course, gourmet Vegan Valentine’s dinner happening in February for a com-passionately romantic night.
“Look in his eyes and see him next time you’re eating a hamburger, think about him,” says Ching of Norman the cow. “We know we can’t save all the animals, but we’ll always have ambassadors here that will teach everyone about them. The animals do the real life teaching.”