On the night of June 16 in Los Angeles, James Costos, VP of global licensing and retail, consumer marketing for HBO, and Michael Smith, the renowned interior designer who helped the Obamas decorate the private living quarters at the the White House, opened their modern concrete-and-glass Holmby Hills house for a benefit for farm animal protection nonprofit organization Farm Sanctuary. The organization's work is dedicated to end cruel factory farming practices through investigations, public education, legislation and litigation.
Just before sunset, approximately 250 guests such as longtime vegan Emily Deschanel, Peggy Lipton, home furnishings designer Alexandra Von Furstenberg and Kevin Nealon were all greeted by perfectly clad wait staff offering tray after tray of vegan delights prepared by chef Chris Kidder such as fried squash blossoms, rice balls, vegan pizzas.
One of the first to greet guests was Gene Baur, co-Founder of Farm Sanctuary and president since 1986, who spoke to the fact that they want to "raise awareness about what happens on factory farms and to encourage people to make lifestyle choices that are aligned with their own values and interests. Most people when they think about factory farming say they don't want to think about it because it's so upsetting, so we encourage people to think about this and if it's upsetting not to support it and to eat food that is healthier and doesn’t make us sick which a lot of it does."
There are three Farm Sanctuaries, one in upstate New York, one right outside Los Angeles in Acton and one in northern California. Each has the same mandate and goals, to open their doors to suffering farm animals. Some of the animals are found during the group's investigations of stockyards, factory farms and slaughterhouses — animals who are abandoned at auctions when they could no longer walk, or thrown into dumpsters because they were no longer "productive."
Smith said that once he and his partner got their three dogs, it taught them empathy in "in a way which we didn’t expect."
His partner Costos, who spearheaded the event, said he became aware of the work of Farm Sanctuary in the 1980s sitting at the bar of vegan restaurant, Candle 79 in New York when the owner introduced him to one of the principals of FS. "I have always been interested in the advocacy of animals and as Michael said having animals of your own sets you on that path. Farm Sanctuary focuses on farm animals who are the most left behind animals in the system. They have such an organic way to introduce you to this. We have been trying to do this event for a long time." Costos has been a vegetarian for 12 years and the couple only serve vegetarian menus at events in their house.
Smith and Costos, who are also some of the biggest campaign bundlers for Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, co-hosted a fundraiser in New York last week with Mariah Carey for the President.
Nealon has been a vegetarian for the last 24 years and a supporter of FS for 20 years after visiting the Sanctuary and he said that the experience was an eye opener. "I deeply believe in what they are doing and they are doing a great job getting legislation passed to make the lives of animals much better and I am all for it." On the career front, Nealon is now in his last season of the Showtime hit series Weeds and is soon to have a comedy special coming out on the same network.
In the later part of the evening -- which was designed by Steven Petrarca Events -- guests headed out to the garden where many of the executive members of the FS made speeches educating the crowd on the state of farm animals and presented plaques to their supporters. One story in particular had the crowd deeply emotional when one of the staff spoke about the great lengths they went to rescue a calf that had been discarded and how they brought him back to the sanctuary in New York and were able to give him all the top veterinary care he needed, turning his life around.