The ballroom of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel blossomed into a leafy oasis on Saturday night to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Farm Sanctuary, a non-profit organization that sponsors animal shelters across the country and works to educate people about farm animal abuse. Garnished with a faux foliage decor and a selection of vegan dishes that had guests murmuring multiple variations of "I can't believe it's not ...," the event proved to be a makeshift sanctuary in more ways than one.
"Tonight feels like a recovery meeting of sorts," said Kevin Nealon, who emceed the event. "In light of recent events, it's nice to be in a room full of conscientious people."
But while the evening was tinged with political quips (Moby, who presented an award to one of the evening's honorees, promptly followed Nealon with "God is on vacation"), the attendees - which included Jon Stewart, Kat Von D, Leona Lewis and Emily Deschanel - primarily gathered to express their gratitude for Farm Sanctuary's unparalleled rescue work during the past three decades. Deschanel, one of the organizations co-chairs and a seasoned vegan of 22 years (or maybe 23; she's lost count), opened the evening's program with a series of thank you's, bookended by a tear-jerking montage video that highlighted how far the organization has come. What began as a rogue, two-man animal rescue mission in the 1980s has grown into a nationwide revolution, with Farm Sanctuary shelters spanning hundreds of acres across New York and California.
Thirty years later, Lewis - the recipient of this year's "Friends Not Food" award, who says she's "always been an animal rights activist" - sang a lilting rendition of "Happy Birthday" to Farm Sanctuary over a cake aptly shaped like a van, a scaled-down version of Farm Sanctuary president and co-founder Gene Baur's original getaway vehicle. Baur's real lime-green VW Westphalia was stationed in the corner of the ballroom, where guests could enjoy vegan hot dogs throughout the night - a clever nod to Baur's early activism days, traveling across the country selling veggie dogs at Grateful Dead concerts.
Jon and Tracey Stewart, proud owners of more than 30 pets (and counting), are helping to expand Farm Sanctuary's mission with a New Jersey location, which the couple plans to launch into full operation in fall 2017. One of Farm Sanctuary's co-chairs and author of the 2015 New York Times best-seller Do Unto Animals, Tracey Stewart has long been a pillar of animal rights advocacy. Jon presented several awards throughout the evening, expressing support for his wife's tireless commitment to this cause.
Surprisingly, he (mostly) refrained from political commentary, but did make sure to remark on the evening's recurring theme. "There's been lots of political talk tonight," he began. "As a Trump supporter, it's been difficult for me to hear."
Another of the evening's honorees was Von D, who brought her visibly proud father to the event as her plus-one (and who she wryly introduced as "Dad Von D"). The famed Hollywood tattoo artist and makeup savant received Farm Sanctuary's "Compassion in Action" award. Despite her admission that she usually "wings it" when delivering speeches, Von D penned a heartwarming acceptance address, crediting the importance of the cause for her change in practice.
"Going vegan is one of the best things that ever happened to me," she said. An outspoken animal rights advocate and the entrepreneurial powerhouse behind a line of cruelty-free beauty products, Von D is dedicated to educating people about the oft-overlooked animal abuse that colors so much of the makeup industry. On the ground level, she believes that being vocal with her peers is the key to spreading awareness. "Just because saying something feels uncomfortable, that [discomfort] is not enough of an excuse to not fight for the rights of these animals," said Von D. She'd echoed that sentiment earlier in the evening in an exclusive interview with The Hollywood Reporter, stating firmly, "I'm done being quiet." She challenged her listeners to educate themselves about the realities of factory farming and the violence it wreaks on thousands of animals every minute.
As a loose guard dog wandered the maze of dinner tables situated beneath the stage, weaving in and out of the hands of delighted guests, Von D wrapped up with an earnest plea to her audience: "Learn the truth, live the truth and then share it with as many people as possible."