Wednesday, April 19, 2017

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Maya Gottfried

It’s proof that the compassionate world is growing when there are whole guides published that are dedicated to dating as a vegan, right? With
Vegan Love: Dating and Partnering for the Cruelty-Free Gal, with Fashion, Makeup & Wedding Tips by author Maya Gottfried, we have a fun, lively and informative guide for vegan ladies lookin’ for love and connection. Written with an engaging voice and welcoming tone, Vegan Love is quite the thorough and captivating how-to guide for the growing vegan niche: part coach, part cool big sister, part primer for the modern dating scene and part vegan education handbook, Maya’s book manages to be all of the above without compromising any of the parts. With profiles of prominent vegans like Jasmin Singer, Jane Velez-Mitchell and Marisa Miller Wolfson and coming from hetero and LBGTQ perspectives, Vegan Love keeps you engaged with different views on dating and gracefully weaves in educational sections on a wide range of subjects, such as the cruelty of the fashion industry, while never straying too far from the theme of love. Should you just date other vegans or should you consider dating non-vegans? As you might imagine, there is a wide range of viewpoints expressed in the book from the various interview subjects and the author. I appreciate that in addition to while acknowledging the differences in perspectives and experiences, the author has a confident vegan stance. This is a great guide with the perfect balance of tougher stuff and delightful fluff to keep readers informed and engaged. I highly recommend Vegan Love and am grateful to be able to feature Maya Gottfried as this week’s Vegan Rockstar.

1. First of all, we’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out? Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?

Like many other vegans, I’ve always considered myself an animal lover, it just took me some time to make the connection that the animals I ate were no different than the ones who curled up in my lap at home. As a child I adored watching wildlife, like ducks in the water, and loved our family dog, Ollie, but simply didn’t stop to think that the animals I was eating were sentient beings who valued their lives, too.

When I was little, I decided I wanted to be a veterinarian when I grew up, out of my love for animals. I also wrote to the ASPCA and explained that I wanted to help animals, asking what I could do. They mailed me a big package of pamphlets. I put one outside of every apartment door in our building. I didn’t become a veterinarian, but the desire to help stayed with me, eventually leading me to go vegan.

When I was 35 I finally came to veganism. I loved animals and wanted to help them but more and more I was learning about the cruelty they suffered to be food. Clearly no animal wants to die. I had begun following the work of Farm Sanctuary and became vegetarian when I was 34. I continued to learn more, mostly through Farm Sanctuary and Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s “Food for Thought” podcast. Finally, sitting at my desk one night, it hit me. I simply could not justify consuming any animal products anymore. There was no getting around the suffering. And so I went vegan.

2. Imagine that you are pre-vegan again: how could someone have talked to you and what could they have said or shown you that could have been the most effective way to have a positive influence on you moving toward veganism?

What really helped me in my own journey was reading and hearing about the individual animals who live at Farm Sanctuary, the suffering they endured, and the details of their personalities. Once I knew the truth of their lives, and how I was hurting them with what I was eating and wearing, I just could not contribute to their pain anymore. But for me it was a gentle path, I didn’t need to see graphic videos, though I sometimes watch them. Because I only needed to know the truth to make the change, it was the gentle delivery of the simple facts to me that was most effective.

3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?

I think sharing my own story is most effective with people who I have just met, for example at a party. I don’t tell people what I think they should do, but share my enthusiasm and the happiness I experience being vegan. Sometimes people ask me questions about veganism, and in those situations I gently deliver the truth, just as it was delivered to me. In fact, my partner, Dietrich, had been vegetarian for about 30 years when we met, and asked me why I was vegan on one of our first dates. I simply explained the realities of dairy to him, and he went vegan, just like that. His experience was like mine, once he knew the truth it was an easy decision to go vegan. Sometimes, though, the graphic videos and memes can help people make the connection. A friend of mine saw a video I shared on Facebook about a chicken who was saved from a factory farm and immediately stopped eating eggs. The delivery of the information was different, but the thought process was the same—she said she stopped because before seeing it she simply did not know what happened to the male chicks born into the egg industry. Now that she knew the truth, she couldn’t contribute to the suffering anymore

4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?

The vegan movement is built on love. Sometimes we get frustrated or angry that the cruelty still exists, but at the heart of it all, us ethical vegans have made this commitment because of our love for the animals. That is a lot of love. Think of all that we can do to make the world a better place with so much positivity.

We also live as shining examples of the benefits of living an ethical lifestyle. Those of us who eat a healthy plant-based diet stand as evidence that living cruelty-free gives us glowing skin and healthy hair. We are generally happier knowing we are creating positive change in the world, and are living proof that we don’t need to eat animal products to have great energy and strength.

5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?

When we are aggressive in how we deliver information, we inevitably push people away. We are all ambassadors of this movement and every time we interact with someone about veganism it’s an opportunity to demonstrate that veganism is built on kindness and love. If we approach people with aggression and fear tactics we can expect the same in return.

6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.

I had stage 3 cancer when I went vegan. While going through chemo I learned that animal proteins do nothing less than facilitate the lethal disease’s spread. I went vegan out of a love for animals but once I learned about the health benefits I also became vegan for myself. I have now been cancer free for eight years.

7. Who are the people and what are the books, films, websites and organizations that have had the greatest influence on your veganism and your continuing evolution?

Farm Sanctuary has been my “home base” since I went vegetarian, and was the organization that inspired me to go vegan one year later. I even wrote a children’s book about their sanctuaries’ animal residents, Our Farm: By the Animals of Farm Sanctuary (Knopf). I also am a fan of Mercy for Animals. Colleen Patrick-Goudreau was my biggest influence outside of Farm Sanctuary, in my growth from vegetarian to vegan, and I am a fan of her “Food for Thought” podcast. I love the writing of Victoria Moran, Jonathan Balcombe, and Gene Baur. I also was greatly inspired by John Robbins’ The Food Revolution. The film Earthlings was the most powerful one on the issues that I’ve seen, and inspired my niece, Annelise to go vegan, too. I also love the films Vegucated and Forks Over Knives. The websites that play the biggest role in my continuing growth are VegNews and Our Hen House (and I’m happy to have written for both).

8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?

For me, veganism comes out of love, so if I’m feeling depleted it signals to me that I need to generate more positive feelings. I do this by meditating, going for walks, and finding time to watch a goofy movie or two. If I have the opportunity, I also recharge by spending time with the cows, sheep, goats, chickens, pigs and turkeys who live at farm animal sanctuaries. They inspire me the most to keep going. Seeing or speaking with my friends also does a lot to warm my heart and help me put more positivity into the world. It especially helps me to be part of a community of vegans, and have friends who are also involved in helping animals. If I’m working all of the time I simply run out of the energy to do any more.

9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?

When I think about all of the farm animals who have lost their lives to be food, I see billions of them, filling great fields, quietly pleading with us to stop. This is at the heart of my work.

There is another cause that is important to me. I volunteer each week at a no-kill volunteer-run cat and dog shelter called ARF (in Beacon, NY). Some people in the vegan community feel that it is cruel for animals to be kept in no-kill shelters, but spending time in one on a weekly basis, I strongly disagree. Given some time in the shelter, many cats and dogs who might be euthanized in a kill shelter find loving homes. Those who don’t have a good life with great veterinary care and lots of love from volunteers at the shelter. It breaks my heart when I read that some organizations advocate for these animals to be euthanized rather than given a chance at a shelter. I hope that readers will consider volunteering at a local shelter. By just donating a few hours a week you can make a huge difference for the animals. These shelters can be successful, but many need volunteers in order to continue. This is a very simple way for people to make a huge positive impact for animals who might otherwise be euthanized at a kill shelter. And I always walk out of ARF feeling so much better than when I arrived.

10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”

Pure love.


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