Maya Gottfried is not just a published author, successful publicist, and owner of her own communications agency. She is also a champion for the animals and a creative and inspirational woman. I (Cindi Saadi) recently had the pleasure of interviewing Maya, whose latest book, Our Farm, (Knopf) helps children to experience an emotional connection with farmed animals, over and over again, without even needing to leave their house.
“It was so important for me to get something out into the world that I felt benefited the world and the animals.”~ Maya Gottfried
Maya shares how her personal battle with cancer solidified her desire to get the book out into the world where it could help the animals. And now she continues to make a contribution by donating her time, energy, and skills as a publicist to represent an impressive list of vegan and animal rights nonprofits. Additionally, her work with Cynthia King Dance Studio (see previous blog post) has already proven to be a powerful fusion of the two women’s creativity and activism as they host events featuring a unique blend of Maya’s compassionate poetry from Our Farm and Cynthia’s inspired choreography.
Maya believes in the power of children’s books to encourage imagination and shape perceptions; and she is hopeful that more people in creative fields will join her in helping to change the traditional images of animals in books and other creative media.
And who do we really have to thank for the powerful animal advocate Maya Gottfried has become? Most likely a foster cat named Mabel who came to live with Maya years ago. It was because of Mabel that Maya learned of Farm Sanctuary and really got to know the animals who are now featured in her book! The rest, as they say, is history. Thanks, Mabel!
FARM: How did the idea for Our Farm come about?
MAYA: As a children’s book writer, I am always looking for ideas. Visiting Farm Sanctuary online and in person, I saw that every animal had a name, a personality, and a story. That really said to me that this was a children’s book, just waiting to be captured on paper. The message Farm Sanctuary was conveying was peace and love. It was a sophisticated message, but not too sophisticated for a child to understand. The message of the spirituality of the animals and their desire for a peaceful life was one the children would understand and related to. It was such an honor to write this book.
FARM: Why did you choose to use art versus photography?
MAYA: Children’s books were my medium and I had been working with artist, Robert Rahway Zakanitch. I love photography and believe both art and photography have their place in the animal rights movement. But there is a saying that art makes the invisible visible and with farmed animals there is a lot to make visible. Like photography, art allows the personalities and emotional lives of the animals to be shared. Robert worked from photographs and his art beautifully captured the personalities and soulfulness of the animals.
FARM: Why is this such an important book for children to read?
MAYA: I think it helps them to make an emotional connection. Kids love animals and it helps to reinforce that. They might meet animals at a sanctuary and experience that connection, but when they return to the city it is not often reinforced. The book tries to reinforce that natural connection.
FARM: Tell us about how Our Farm is being featured in Fairfield, CT.
MAYA: Fairfield chose Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer for their 2011 “One Book, One Town” program, and Our Farm was selected as the companion book for children. In March, Gene Baur and I will go to Fairfield for Farm Sanctuary Day where I will speak and also read from the book. Then there will be a vegan lunch and Gene will speak in the afternoon. Anyone who wants to attend can register online. Jonathan Safran Foer will be speaking there too, on another day. I am really excited and hope a lot of families will come out. It will be interesting to hear their feedback.
FARM: Why are children’s books so important to you?
MAYA: Children’s books have always been closest to my heart. I remember all of my favorites, most of which involve animals. They have a cherished place in my heart and so I wanted to be a part of that tradition. I want to create books that children will remember for the rest of their lives. There is so much in the imagination of a child and so to encourage it and be a part of that is very special.
FARM: What lead you to the vegan lifestyle?
MAYA: I tried to go vegetarian and finally did it for a year. I wanted to be vegan, but didn’t believe I could do it. When I took in a foster cat, Mabel, I created a MySpace page and “friended” a lot of animal advocacy groups. That’s how I discovered Farm Sanctuary (about 4 years ago). I really got into their Web site and ways to volunteer for them. I didn’t know anything about factory farming, or the pain ducks go through for foie gras, or how chickens were treated. I believed the happy California cow commercials. But once I knew the truth, it was a much easier path. I looked at the photos and read their stories and realized… they were beings. I couldn’t really connect with them when doing things I knew were hurting them and that’s what finally moved me to a completely vegan diet. I knew I wasn’t living my truth. It took a lot of self-examination, even after I knew the facts. There was still such a disconnect between the inner and outer truth. It is so ingrained in us from an early age that meat and dairy are healthy. Coming out of that mindset can take years, but you can still make the dietary changes to a vegan diet and save lives while you continue to do research and sort through your thoughts.
I was diagnosed with stage 3 colon and rectal cancer when I was 36. While going through chemotherapy, Gene Baur told me about The China Study. Once I read it, my commitment to veganism was even more cemented from a health perspective. I also had an appointment with one of the co-heads of the holistic department at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and he told me I should be vegetarian. I was already vegan, but I was so happy to hear that was his first piece of advice to a patient with cancer. So I tell people that if you don’t believe me, and you don’t believe all the books, believe what the people at Sloan Kettering are saying.
There is so much data supporting the fact that animal proteins facilitate the growth of cancer in the body. I really believe that going vegetarian and vegan may have slowed and prevented the cancer from becoming stage 4.
FARM: How did your cancer play a role in your writing Our Farm?
MAYA: When I found out I had cancer, I could not help but wonder what the outcome could be. It was so important for me to get something out into the world that I felt benefited the world and the animals. I had wanted to write the book before the cancer, but the cancer really made me want to make sure I got it done.
FARM: What do you think the animal rights movement needs more of?
MAYA: I think more writers and artists are needed to help reshape the image of animals in children’s books and we need to make headway with major children’s book publishers that have great distribution and marketing support. There is something normalizing for omnivores when a vegan or animal-friendly product comes from a place they are familiar with. Many of the children’s books with farm animals have a subtle message that the animals are being raised for food. This is part of where the image of the idyllic farm comes from. I think we are just beginning to chip away at that traditional image in children’s books.
In addition to this, I feel that vegan and animal rights issues need to be more normalized and put into the mainstream. There is amazing vegan media, but the mainstream media is very important for reaching people who are not looking for something new or different. And it is happening. For example, Gene Baur has appeared on CNN’s Headline News Network and NPR On Point did a big feature on veganism.
FARM: What are you doing now aside from your writing?
MAYA: I love writing and doing publicity and so I have started my own cruelty-free communications company, Girl and the World. I didn’t set out with an intention of forming an agency. It started as informal conversations of how I could help someone and just grew from there. In addition to my for-profit clients, I have a number of wonderful vegan and animal rights nonprofits that I work with free of charge. I think it is important to be of service and I find it fun to get involved with other people’s inspiring projects.
I also serve as Director of Communications for Cynthia King Dance Studio and Cynthia King Vegan Ballet Slippers. I love working with Cynthia. It’s an amazing opportunity to use my skills to help animals and work closely with someone who has been advocating for the animals through the arts for a long time. She has also been very supportive of my book.
FARM: Tell us about the events you and Cynthia King are doing together to promote Our Farm.
MAYA: We recently had a book reading/dance event and it was great. Lot of kids and their families came out. I read from Our Farm and Cynthia danced with the kids. They danced like a pig or other animal and it helped them to emotionally connect with the animals, which is at the core of veganism and activism. Even some of the parents danced and everyone enjoyed the vegan food. There was a great energy – very joyous. The NY Daily News also mentioned it, which was great!
Then during Cythina King Dance Studio’s February show, Our Farm will be featured in a performance called “Sanctuary Suite.” I will read from the book while dancers perform pieces inspired by the book and choreographed by Cynthia.
FARM: Who are your clients for Girl and the World?
MAYA: Right now I am representing Our Hen House, an all media nonprofit clearinghouse for all things in the realm of animal advocacy and protection; Regal Vegan, chef Ella Nemcova’s company which produces Faux Gras; Victoria Moran, a bestselling vegan author and spiritual health expert; Joshua Katcher, the creator/author of The Discerning Brute blog; and PINNACLE: Reinvent the Icon, an initiative to recreate the “No Fur” pin and educate the style-savvy about the cruel realities of fur in fashion. I also offer public relations support to the nonprofit Animals Asia.
It’s fulfilling to play a role in what these cruelty-free organizations are doing. I had my own public relations agency 10 years ago, and although I was happy with the work I did, I felt drained at the end of the day. Now I feel so good at the end of the day! Besides the rewards of working to help animals, it’s a particularly exciting time to be representing vegan and animal rights endeavors in the media because the media is taking more of an interest.
Learn more about Our Farm at the book’s Web site. And learn more about Maya’s other books HERE. Stay tuned for the Girl and the World Web site, to be launched shortly! Also, check out a recent article about the animals of Farm Sanctuary written by Maya for AOL Pawnation. Join Our Farm on Facebook and follow Maya on Twitter (@Mayabidaya). You can also reach Maya by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
~ Cindi Saadi for the FARM blog