It is not uncommon to encounter someone who assumes that vegans only care about animals and not about people. Although many vegans (and probably some non-vegans) might prefer the company of a dog or perhaps a cow, chicken, or goat to a not-as-easy-going human being, vegans definitely care about people. After all, vegans ARE people! The fact is that adopting a vegan lifestyle WILL help people all over the planet, as well as help the planet. Vegans strive for a world in which all animals (humans included) live free lives as respected, inherently-worthy beings. The truth is that the meat industry has more victims than the animals and is negatively impacting human beings around the world. What you eat can make a difference.

Slaughterhouse photo from All-Creatures.org

In his March/April 2011 VegNews article, “Injustice for All,” Mark Hawthorne writes about the men and women who work in the meat and farming industries. He illustrates the many horrors of working in a slaughterhouse, as well as the serious suffering and exploitation these workers, as well as field farm workers endure. Slaughterhouse employees are subject to the most dangerous factory conditions in the U.S. and the industry has an extraordinarily high turnover rate. These individuals face extremely high rates of serious physical injury, abuse, mental/psychological stress, and death. They too are victims of an abusive and exploitative, profit-driven industry.

Hawthorne’s article begins with a poultry slaughterhouse worker who must hang 35 fully-conscious birds per minute upside down and lock their feet into shackles for slaughter. The worker describes the soreness in his joints from the fast repetitive action, the pain of being bitten by the desperate animals, and the unavoidable chicken feces in his eyes, mouth, nose, ears, and elsewhere, (despite the protective clothing) as the frightened birds release their bowels.

Chicken Slaughter. Photo by Farm Sanctuary

As is reported of many slaughterhouses, nothing must slow the line. The man describes having worked at a Tyson plant where people had to urinate on equipment and defecate in their pants. In some cattle slaughterhouses, workers face the risk of being kicked or even crushed by a cow that is hanging by one leg and has not been properly stunned for the next worker to slit the cow’s jugular vein with a knife.

Unfortunately, as Gail Eisnitz reported in her book, Slaughterhouse, many of these workers turn to alcohol and other drugs to cope with their stress and often become violent with family members, friends, co-workers, and animals. Killing hundreds of animals per hour can indeed have a powerful impact on a person’s psychological and physical well-being. Imagine how it might impact you to have to do that job.

I believe Hawthorne says it best at the end of the article:

“Indeed, shouldn’t ethical eating be based upon the premise that our bodies can be nourished without having to support physical or psychological abuse, child labor, life-threatening hazards, sexual harassment, human-rights violations, or the very commodification of workers as well as animals? Don’t all beings deserve to be safe? As consumers, we have the power to make a difference. We can demand that human and nonhuman animals alike are not exploited just to put food on our tables.” ~ Mark Hawthorne, VegNews March/April. 2011

In addition to the labor issues highlighted in Hawthorne’s article, there are many other examples of how what we eat impacts other humans:

HUNGER: Millions of people (many very young children) world-wide could be spared from hunger-related suffering and death by simply using food to directly feed humans versus funneling foods through animals. It’s a very simple equation. When one compares the resources needed to create one pound of meat to how many people you could feed with those same resources, it is difficult for even the most math-impaired person to see that this is not a great return on investment.

ENVIRONMENT: Between using up precious resources and creating massive amounts of waste and pollution, animal agribusiness is not kind to our planet. We are destroying rainforests (oxygen) to make room for more cattle to graze. We are literally vacuuming up the ocean’s sea life and also polluting it with vast amounts of waste from factory farms. And people living near factory farms experience polluted air & water, and also suffer from increased rates of asthma, other respiratory illnesses, and other serious health conditions.

VIOLENCE: Slaughterhouse workers who turn to substance abuse and violence as a result of the stress and psychological trauma experienced on the job are only a part of the picture in terms of the connection between eating meat and violence. Eating meat and exploiting animals contributes to an overall desensitization experienced by humankind as we turn away from what we know is true and compartmentalize our empathy for other beings. Many also believe that by consuming the animal, we are also taking the energy of that animal into our beings, specifically their suffering, pain, and fear. Check out The World Peace Diet by Will Tuttle or Melanie Joy’s Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows for more on how contributing to the suffering and death of billions of animals is impacting our species as a whole.

HEALTH: Given the vast amount of data regarding how a plant-based diet can help to improve one’s health, lower the risk of many diseases, and even reverse disease, promoting veganism is clearly a kind act toward other humans.

RESEARCH/TESTING ON ANIMALS: As is noted on the National Anti-Vivisection Society’s Web site, animals are not predictive for human response. Studying one species in order to understand the drug or disease response of a different species is an archaic and scientifically invalid idea. Animal testing is a business. Research means money. How many human lives could be improved if testing were more conducted more appropriately?

In his article, Hawthorne features César Chávez, labor & civil rights activist, farm worker, and staunch vegetarian who wrote in 1990, “Kindness and compassion toward all living things is a mark of a civilized society.” Chávez also said, “Only when we have become nonviolent toward all life will we have learned to live well ourselves.”

And as Mark Hawthorne says in one simple sentence, “Don’t all beings deserve to be safe?”

~ Cindi Saadi for the FARM Blog

If you enjoy books with drama, adventure, excitement, and even a little romance, you will definitely enjoy John Yunker’s new book, The Tourist Trail. If you love animals you will enjoy The Tourist Trail even more. And if you are someone who is passionate about protecting animals and conserving our oceans, then you better run and get this book now!

The Tourist Trail, by John Yunker

The Tourist Trail celebrates the everyday heroes who spend their lives doing anything and everything they can do to help animals. In the book, John strategically introduces important issues and messages via an entertaining, non-threatening medium. Talking with John recently on the phone emphasized to me (Cindi Saadi) that this man is on a mission to change the way people who strive to protect the Earth and the animals are perceived. And he wants to do it through fiction.

Talk with John and you will have no doubt that animal rights and environmental activists/advocates are in very good hands being portrayed in his powerful and enjoyable truth-based fiction. And hopefully he will inspire many more writers to join him in creating a mainstream movement of animal rights/environmental fiction.

In our phone interview, John talks about the inspiration behind The Tourist Trail and his passion for educating people about animals, the earth, and the people who strive to protect them. He also shares how pivotal the Animal Rights National Conference was for his personal and professional journey. Thank you, John, for raising awareness through your gift of writing!

*****ALSO – for 2 LUCKY PEOPLE – John is generously giving away copies of his book. See details about how to win a copy of The Tourist Trail at the end of this blog interview.*****

FARM:  What inspires you to write?

JOHN: We are in a new heroic age. The heroes in this age are the protectors and the rescuers. The people who devote their lives to these causes and work in obscurity are heroes and heroines. They don’t make a lot of money and they devote their lives to issues that are not very popular. This inspires me to write. It’s what I can contribute. FARM really brought this home for me when I went to the Animal Rights National Conference in 2007. To see so many people from all around the world doing so many things, risking and investing so much of their lives for the animals, was inspirational. Most people don’t know these struggles are going on around the world. If I can create a book that can raise awareness and empathy for how animals and our oceans are treated, then maybe we can get more people’s support.

FARM:  What experiences influenced your decision to go vegan?

JOHN: Attending the 2007 Animal Rights National Conference hosted by FARM in Los Angeles was a life-changing experience, to put it mildly. I had been working on my book, The Tourist Trail, since 2004 and had become passionate about the environment and sea animals. I had given up seafood, but was still fairly ignorant about animal issues around the globe. After the first night at the conference, I called my wife and said, “That’s it, I’m done [eating meat/using animal products].” I went there thinking I needed to learn more for the novel, but that event changed my life dramatically for the better and also broadened the scope of the novel.

FARM:  What was your primary goal in writing The Tourist Trail?

JOHN: I wanted to create a book that would raise awareness and that someone with no knowledge or interest in animal rights could read and come away changed. It is designed to be a thriller, a literary adventure, and to draw you in without being too preachy. I grew up in the Midwest and was raised to be a meat-eater and not think about what I ate. I understand how difficult it is to think about these things and change the way you view the world. This is the person I hope to reach. I would love for people to read the book and go vegan, but I am also trying to show that these activists are worthy of the great epic novels of our time. Their struggle, taking on these unpopular and unprofitable causes, is heroic. We all like heroes, but we don’t realize they walk among us, are vegan, and are striving to protect animals.

FARM:  Tell us about the inspiration behind The Tourist Trail.

Penguins in Punta Tombo Photo by John Yunker

JOHN: In 2004, I volunteered with The Penguin Project, helping with the penguin census in Punta Tombo, in the Patagonia region of Argentina. To say this was life-changing is an understatement. Twenty-five years ago this Magellanic penguin colony was almost wiped out as the Japanese were planning to harvest them to use for women’s gloves. A local park ranger and his wife managed to stop it. Dee Boersma (U. of Washington) started doing research to see if the colony was growing or shrinking. Now the colony is protected and is a popular tourist attraction; however, the penguins must now be protected from tourists during breeding season, and from many threats such as fishing and oil spills.

The people who work on behalf of these penguins are unbelievable. They dedicate their lives to these creatures. A number of the researchers have been there for 10 years or longer, doing the important work of counting and tracking these animals. They never tire. The work is tedious and it’s cold. Water is trucked in so they can have one cold shower a week. They are up at dawn and work until dark. The don’t complain and bear scars all over their arms from the penguins. They band thousands of penguins so that they can find out where they are going. They gather this data so that they can present the government with hard proof that the colony is diminishing and is struggling to find food because of the offshore fishing. Without data, the government will favor the fishermen.

One day in Punta Tombo, there were about a dozen of us eating lunch on the rocks, watching the penguins coming and going on the shore. Looking at the long shore of rocks, I had a vision of someone washing up and a naturalist discovering him. I returned home and wrote a short-story based on that vision. The story won an award and was published, but I wasn’t ready yet to let go of it. So I expanded it into a novel, which after numerous drafts became The Tourist Trail.

FARM:  Why did you choose to focus on penguins?

Penguins in the water at Punta Tombo. Photo by John Yunker

JOHN: Penguins are great animals to focus on for a lot of reasons. As was explained to me, penguins are sentinels of the ocean. They are extremely sensitive to changes and so as we learn about them, we learn about the state of our planet. It’s also hard to meet someone who doesn’t like a penguin. I wanted to make the connection between penguins and the food on our plate. The food we feed to farmed salmon, for example, is being taken away from waters where the penguin feed. We take food from one species to feed another. There is no ethical or guilt-free seafood.

To really see what penguins deal with is incredible. They struggle to make a living, traveling hundreds of miles to get food and raise their chicks. A penguin couple acts as a tag team and if one gets caught in a net and dies, it will likely destroy the family as the other mate will have to leave to save his or her own life. A colony can be decimated very quickly.

FARM:  Do the characters in the book represent real people?

JOHN: Angela seems very real to me, but she is really a collection of voices. Aeneas is a mythical figure inspired by Paul Watson. Ethan has a fair amount of me in him. And so does Robert, whose character goes through a transformation, just as writing this book was transformational for me.

And then there is the penguin character, Diesel, who was inspired by the real penguin, Turbo. Turbo is a special little guy in Punta Tombo who really took to the researchers. You can even pet him and he does not bite. He knows the people and comes when his name is called. He likes to hang out with the humans and tries to come into their offices. Turbo even has his own Facebook page and every year people wait for an update on his page to make sure he returned safely.

The Friendly Turbo! Photo by John Yunker

It’s hard for people to not get attached to Diesel/Turbo. It seems that when there are a lot of a certain kind of animal, we tend to think of them as alike and it can be easier to not care about them as individuals. But the minute one has a name and a personality, people begin to realize that they could all have a personality, a family, challenges, and histories. Just as farm sanctuaries are introducing animals as individual personalities. We are all very good at compartmentalizing. But I think we are getting to an age where those distinctions are going to be hard to uphold.

FARM:  What kind of feedback have you received from people who have read the book? How is the book doing overall?

JOHN: Overall the responses have been very positive. I am self-published and it’s been going quite well. I’ve also been approached by a Korean publisher and it would be amazing to get it published overseas. After reading the book, even some of the most conservative people have paused to think more about the ocean. Some people told me they cried. One person said it was too traumatic and a few people could not finish it. But a lot of non-animal rights people picked it up because it sounded interesting and really liked it. That’s the best review of all.

FARM:  What do you think the animal rights cause needs more of?

JOHN: The thing about both animal rights and the environment is that there is not enough fiction that focuses on these causes. If an activist is included in fiction, the character is typically portrayed as a wacko. I believe this has to change. I did find an agent for this novel and I was heartened to see that my book did not get rejected anywhere because of the animal rights theme. However, publishers are afraid to take chances, which is why the book did not find a home. However, once a few books do break through, then publishers will begin to pay attention. But we need to prove there is a mainstream market. I think it’s impossible to not see animal rights being one of the great mainstream issues of our generation and the next one. I’d like to encourage more writers to write about animal rights and environmental issues.

FARM:  Do you have any projects you are working on currently?

JOHN: Yes, I am working on a loosely-related sequel, so stay tuned! Also, my wife, Midge Raymond, and I have formed Byte Level Books, which is dedicated to publishing books with a world view. We are currently looking for submissions from writers of animal rights or eco-lit. My wife is a full-time creative writer and we previously worked together to write a book with an environmental theme. We know there are so many voices out there and we want to help get those amazing stories out into the world.

Visit The Tourist Trail Web site to learn more about the book or to order copies. You can also connect with John on Facebook and on Twitter @touristtrail or @bytelevelbooks. You can reach him by E-mail at john@thetouristtrail.com.

~ Cindi Saadi for the FARM Blog

BOOK GIVEAWAY DETAILS:

For your chance at winning a free copy of The Tourist Trail, please complete the following 2 steps: (before March 2nd)

1) In a comment to this blog, please answer the following questions:
a) What is the title of your favorite animal rights novel? (except for The Tourist Trail, of course :-))
b) What type of animal rights novel would you like to see published? i.e. what type of story-line

2) On FARM’s Facebook page find the entry about THIS BLOG POST, then please post a comment to that post with your answers to the same 2 questions above.

**Extra) And for extra chances to win – Send a hello tweet to @FARMUSA and @Touristtrail and mention this blog post!

The two winners will be selected on MARCH 2nd, so enter soon!

How will you show your love & compassion for animals this Valentine’s Day?

Recently someone said to me that it isn’t even necessarily about loving every single kind of animal. After all, there are probably some animals out there that might not rank high on the cute & cuddly list. Rather, it is about not being cruel to animals. No animal should be tortured, exploited, or killed for our use.  Can we not extend to them at least that much compassion?

Our companion animals are sure to be lavished with attention & perhaps some extra special treats for cupid’s celebration. But what about all the other animals out there who are not quite as fortunate?

Here are a few suggestions for choosing love & compassion for ALL the animals.

A definite vegan fan! Photo credit: www.1111now.com

1 ~ GO VEGAN. For the day, the week, one month… or even better…. a lifetime. It’s the most loving choice you can make for the animals. Spare them a life of suffering & bring peace into your heart.

If you need help or support, there’s lots out there. Check out our site www.livevegan.org OR visit the archive of past issues at www.MeatoutMondays.org for lots of recipes and tips. The FARM Links page can also connect you with helpful Web sites and blogs for your journey. You can also try more vegan products by taking advantage of the great offers for vegan foods for Meatout 2011! Need more support? L.O.V.E. (Living Opposed to Violence and Exploitation) just launched a vegan pen pal program. Check it out!

2 ~ GO CRUELTY-FREE. Do you know what’s in your make-up or what your shoes are made of? Do you know if your shampoo or cleaning products were tested on bunnies or other animals? Shop with cruelty-free companies that don’t test on animals. (*Note that not all cruelty-free products are vegan.) Also, vegan fashion wear and beauty items are easier to find than ever before, so please leave animal ingredients out of your wardrobe and beauty products. You can find vegan/cruelty-free alternatives for just about anything, even ballet slippers! And if by chance you have some of mom’s or grandmom’s old fur coats or wraps, donate them to a program like Cuddle Coats, where those furs can help comfort and rehabilitate an injured or orphaned animal.

3 ~ TALK, SHARE, TWEET, E-MAIL. Find ways to share what you know about animal use and exploitation with others. Send people links to video clips. Share articles, photos, and Web sites.  Mercy for Animals’ new video, Farm to Fridge is a powerful video to share with others. Participate in Meatout this year and you can get a free DVD copy. See details on the Meatout Web site.

4 ~ READ. In order to talk about the animals and share the most thorough and informative information, it helps to be well-informed. Read books about animal rights, veganism, activism, etc. There are so many great ones! Have you read Thanking the Monkey by Karen Dawn? How about Jonathan Balcombe’s Second Nature? Also support vegan and animal rights-related fiction, such as The Tourist Trail by John Yunker. Pick a few great blogs to follow too. Again, check FARM’s Links page for a great list, as well as the blogroll here. And you can visit PCRM’s site for informative health articles.

Chained circus elephant. Photo credit: www.nashveggie.com/blog

5 ~ BOYCOTT. Don’t support circuses, rodeos, marine parks, or other places where animals are confined and exploited for entertainment. Elephants in their natural environment will walk 50 miles a day. Dolphins love to travel through the water at high speeds and may cover up to 100 miles a day! Many of these very social animals are confined in isolation. They are chained, beaten, hurting, and miserable. Speak out and let others know why you oppose these types of entertainment. Check out the movie, The Cove, for more on the slaughter of dolphins as a result of dolphins used in entertainment.

6 ~ GIVE TO KIDS. Help kids connect to the animals in deep emotional ways. Maybe you can take a group of children on a trip to an animal sanctuary. Or maybe volunteer to show a film or slideshow of your own photos from an animal sanctuary. If not, how about giving away copies of great animal-friendly books for children like Our Farm by Maya Gottfried or That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals by Ruby Roth.

7 ~ ADOPT/SUPPORT. Animal sanctuaries need our support. If you visit one, you’re sure to fall in love with at least one rescued animal. Perhaps you might adopt? Or donate money, free labor, or needed supplies.  And adopting goes for our more typical furry companion animals too. Show your love & compassion for shelter and rescue animals by not buying dogs, cats, and other pets. And shelter dogs and cats need love while they are waiting for a new home too. If you have time, volunteer to visit and walk them.

Bumper, saved by his young friend, Maya. Photo courtesy of Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary

8 ~ GET LOUD & CELEBRATE COMPASSIONATE HEROES! When you hear or read a story about someone who made a compassionate choice – make some noise about it! Celebrate when a young girl in 4H decides to take her steer, Bumper, to an animal sanctuary instead of to the fair. (Story of Bumper, in the book Ninety-Five). Celebrate her parents for supporting her choice! Celebrate when a young girl follows her heart and saves a chicken (Chicklett) versus killing it for a high school class project. Be proud of these compassionate people and be proud of your own compassionate choices. Compassion is COOL!


Portia DeGeneres Hugging Buddha at The Gentle Barn. Photo credit: The Gentle Barn

9 ~ L O V E. If you have a companion animal, love them til you burst. Hug them, talk to them, play with them, treat them, lavish them with your love. If you are fortunate enough to live near a sanctuary, you have lots of hugs to give out & receive.

In fact, check out The Gentle Barn’s Hug A Cow program. The money raised from these delightful hug transactions (donated by a benefactor for each person who hugs a cow) goes to support The Gentle Barn’s programs for at-risk youth where abused farm animals are rehabilitated and then connect with inner-city, at-risk, and special needs youth for a unique form of interactive healing. Plus, everyone who hugs the cows gets joy & healing too!

So get out there and hug some animals. Good for them, good for us. The more love we churn up, the better. All that love FOR the animals and FROM the animals will translate into a kinder world for ALL beings.

Happy Valentine’s Day and Happy Hugging!

~ Cindi Saadi for the FARM Blog

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?

"Ramsey" ~ by Robert Rahway Zakanitch

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 Gottfried with her cats, Lucian (L) & Bunny (R)

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.

Artwork by Robert Rahway Zakanitch

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 maya@girlandtheworld.com.

~ Cindi Saadi for the FARM blog

Every day Cynthia King raises awareness about cruelty to animals and about the importance of living vegan. She is not an animal rights organization. She doesn’t have an animal sanctuary or operate an animal protection group. No, her thing is dance. And she reminds us that a person need not work in an animal-related organization to make a remarkable difference for the animals.

As a well-known and respected dancer, instructor, and choreographer, and even a creator of Cynthia King Vegan Ballet Slippers, the only readily available vegan ballet shoes, she has the ears (and toes) of many students. What she models for them and for her community, in her life and through her vegan studio, is compassion for all beings. Her activism blends beautifully into her life as she uses her creative gifts and talents as a powerful vehicle for sharing the vital message of compassion.

Cynthia King's dance students visit Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. Copyright Photo by Amy Way

“Knowing an animal suffered and died in order for me to dance,
just didn’t work for me. The shoes allow me to dance in good conscience.” ~ Cynthia King

From a recent performance piece exposing the exploitation of animals in the circus to a revelatory piece titled, “Dinner,” part of the February 19th show, “Dinner” and Other Dances at Kumble Theater in NYC, Cynthia King is taking on serious issues with creativity, beauty, and courage.

Just talking with Cynthia on the phone was invigorating for me (Cindi Saadi). Her energy is contagious! One might think that running a successful studio, which includes designing costumes and sets, plus volunteer work and a family would leave her running on empty. Quite the contrary, Cynthia is energized by the amazing opportunities she has to be both creative and compassionate and to make a positive difference. Thank you, Cynthia, for sharing your energy and passion with us in this inspirational interview.

FARM:  Tell us about your journey to becoming vegan.

CYNTHIA: I first made the connection when I was 10 years old and discovered what was really on my plate. I eventually read more about the ways animals are abused. It took a while to put together, but I eventually did. My family and I are vegan and although the common perception is that it is hard to be vegan, I don’t think it is. Being vegan is about not torturing animals or causing them to suffer. The point is, there is no need to be cruel to animals and no reason for an animal to be tortured or used for food or anything else. For me, the health and environmental benefits are extras. It’s about not being mean.

Cynthia King's dance students visit with the animals at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. Photo by Roan Pastor

FARM:  How are you incorporating animals and the message of compassion for animals into your dances?

CYNTHIA: We do a lot of ballets and dances about animals. For years I have done pieces that celebrate the way animals move. For kids it’s great, they can hop like a bunny, float like a butterfly, gallop like a horse, or slither like a snake. And when we talk about the way animals move, we talk about them in loving, kind ways. I work with kids so much and I find it offers a nice opportunity for teaching them about not being cruel.

Rehearsal for Exposé. Photo by Amy Way

Recently I have been doing more serious pieces with the kids.  Last year we did an exposé about animals and entertainment. Children were in cages like the animals at the circus. “Circus go-ers” let them out to do a desperate dance. I talked with the young kids about cats and dogs since they know cats and dogs. Then I talked with them about circus animals. I reminded them of how hard it is to learn to dance – even though they want to and the animals in the circus don’t want to be there.

We’re very excited about our February show, “Dinner” and Other Dances. During the “Dinner” piece, dancers will play the animals on a plate and will get up and dance like the ghosts of their former selves – reminiscing about what it was like to be alive.

I feel like I am really living my message. It has all come together, but it has also taken time. The school needed to stand on its own first. Now my school is thriving and I have the support of the dance community. So it is time to really get more serious and daring.

FARM:  How did you come to create vegan ballet slippers?

Cynthia King's Vegan Ballet Slippers

CYNTHIA: I am not a shoemaker and never really wanted to be one. But I needed vegan ballet slippers! Knowing an animal suffered and died in order for me to dance just didn’t work for me. I also needed a shoe I could recommend in good conscience to my students. So I got materials and went to a dance shoemaker who was able to make a pair. Then I just needed to find a way to make a thousand of them. It was a challenge, but it wasn’t insurmountable, especially after I had one pair made. I found my way as I went, picked people’s brains, sent out samples, and the first shoes were ready in 2003 (a year after the studio opened). Then I kept tweaking the materials until I got one I really liked. Now we have split-sole ballet slippers, canvas on top and synthetic on the bottom, and they are the only ones made. It was hard getting the better material and the split-sole, which came out about a year ago, but now adult dancers are wearing them much more.

FARM:  What kind of reception are your vegan slippers getting?

CYNTHIA: Well, it was very exciting recently to have Vogue contact us to get the shoes for Natalie Portman’s photo shoot. Emily Deschanel also requested them for a scene in the TV show, Bones.  And next they will be used in a Vogue UK photo shoot. Generally though, we sell them online, in catalogs, in certain stores, and there is now overseas interest in them. The shoes are worn exclusively by a few dance companies and there are a lot of belly dancers wearing them!

FARM: What has been most important for you about creating vegan ballet shoes?

CYNTHIA: They allow me to dance in good conscience and with more joy. Symbolically, I am not stepping on someone. Literally, I am not stepping on dead skin. No one had to suffer and die for me or my students to dance, and I am not supporting something evil. They are also great conversation starters for getting to a very important message.

FARM: What it is like having a vegan studio?

CYNTHIA: Wonderful, especially now that I have some people on my staff who are also vegan. My studio is completely vegan. No one can bring in anything that is not vegan and we help them find alternatives. I also have a lot of vegan literature in the studio, including some fairly graphic pieces. It was the graphic, more shocking info that helped me when I was younger. I think teenage years are a great time to reach kids about animals and they share a lot with each other online. For the younger kids, I often feel I am planting seeds and modeling compassion, even in little ways such as “relocating” a spider! Hopefully the message gets through.

Guest dancers and musicians will perform in our February show and they must also wear and use vegan clothing and equipment.  For tappers, there are synthetic tap shoes. For drummers, there are synthetic heads. We also do not use any feathers.

We also do unique types of vegan events, such as a recent book reading/dance event with Maya Gottfried, author of Our Farm. This great event featured Maya reading from her book while I led the children in animal dances. There was music from another vegan performer, plus vegan treats for everyone. (See below for info about a special performance in the Feb. show featuring Maya & her book, Our Farm.)

It was also great taking eight carloads of dancers and some of their families to Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary for a giant photo shoot for the vegan ballet slippers. All the kids were there in their tutus, mingling with the animals.

FARM:  What do you think the animal rights movement needs more of?

CYNTHIA: I think politicians need to be held more accountable and follow through with certain legislation. We need more people getting legislation written, supported, passed, and enacted. Changes can happen from within the system. It’s hard work and perhaps not glamorous, but it’s really important. We need to raise money to support certain candidates, rally as voters, and just get involved.

FARM:  What’s on the agenda for Cynthia King’s Studio and Vegan Ballet Slippers?

CYNTHIA: I want to continue expanding the school and get the shoes into the mainstream market as much as possible. As I expand the school, I’d like to have more time to work on choreographing for the kids and adults.

Cynthia King

I encourage you to visit the Cynthia King Dance Studio Web site, Cynthia King Vegan Ballet Slippers, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter (@CynthiaKingCKDS).  Or if you live in NY, check out the wide variety of classes available. See recent coverage of Cynthia’s studio from the NY Daily News and The NY Times, and don’t forget to check out the February 19th show, “Dinner” and other Dances, held at Kumble Theater in Brooklyn, NY. The 7 p.m. show will also feature a special performance, “Sanctuary Suite,” featuring Maya Gottfried who will read from her book of poetry, Our Farm, as the dancers perform an Our Farm-inspired dance, choreographed by Cynthia. A portion of the proceeds from the show will benefit Farm Sanctuary.

~ Cindi Saadi for the FARM blog

It’s the day after the Oprah “vegan” show and reactions are all over the map. Online, the vegan viewers have expressed everything from intense anger, to mild disappointment, to joy and elation. Expectations were definitely soaring high in the vegan community prior to the show, which perhaps contributed to many people feeling quite let down. Some online agribusiness-related publications and blogs were pleased with how the show turned out. That should say a lot for those who did not see it.

In looking back at the episode and the 7-day vegan challenge itself, here are some thoughts on how it all went down. Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts.

THE GOOD:

~ Mainstream Exposure: More exposure for veganism is generally great, especially the type of mainstream exposure that Oprah’s show can offer. (Note that this is also listed in the Bad things list below.)

~ Positive Impact on Staff: A few of Oprah’s staff were able to share the positive impact the change in diet had on their lives. One man announced he was making the switch permanent because the vegan diet really agreed with him. He had more energy and felt better than he had in years. Another man lost 11 pounds and was able to ditch the over-the-counter medicines he normally needs to get through a typical day.  Another staffer credited Kathy Freston for helping her to realize she was addicted to fast food and was following Freston’s advise to give the vegan challenge a full 21 days versus just 7. Even Oprah’s partner was continuing on with it after the official challenge was over.

~ Kathy Freston: She was basically a vegan island on the show, but did pretty well sparring with Michael Pollan.  She also got a chance to say how being vegan sits well with her soul and brought it back to the animals.

~ Exposure for vegan food products: In various food segments, some favorite vegan brands got a little camera time (i.e. So Delicious) and others even got a great a plug from Freston. (i.e. Earth Balance & Gardein)

THE BAD:

~ “Happy Meat”: There was a LOT of reference (Michael Pollan) to happy meat. Pollan continually said how meat is not bad for us and how he gets his meat from organic “humane” farms (which he claimed there are plenty of). He talked about how the animals on these “humane” farms live happy, healthy lives except for that one day when they don’t.

~ Slaughterhouse Footage: Oprah’s cameras and Lisa Ling were permitted to film inside one of Cargill’s facilities. It was a planned filming, and they did not film the actual killing of the cattle, but assured everyone that the bolt to the head was full-proof and fast, and that they were committed to killing these animals with dignity. Oprah also made note (a few times) that even though Ling witnessed the actually killing, she has not stopped eating meat, but is now more conscious about where her food comes from. Online, some ag folks said they were unexpectedly pleased with how the show went and how it showed the “real” truth about the meat industry.

~ Michael Pollan: He deserves a second mention in this list since he was given the floor a lot during the episode. In fact, when people were sharing their success stories, he said he had to interrupt (despite Freston asking him to “let it be”) and reminded everyone that meat is not bad for us. And he shared how often he and his family eat meat. Perhaps he was there to make sure Oprah didn’t get sued again?

~ The Food: Although Freston was leading this challenge and Whole Foods supported it, people seemed less than enamored with the food. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve had a lot of delicious vegan food and very few things have made me scrunch up my face. Freston is only one person and could not cook for all of these people’s families, but she did do that for one family and it made a difference. So support is a big key to a successful challenge. If you are trying your own challenge, please check out our Meatout Mondays newsletter which includes recipes with photos, product suggestions, health articles, and inspirational stories!

~ Exposure: This belongs on the “Bad” list too since not all mainstream exposure is good for a cause. Unless you believe all publicity is good. Some might argue that all the less than exciting food reviews and the talk of how people were in the bathroom all the time did not do much to encourage Oprah viewers to try a vegan diet. Plus – this exposure ended up lending a lot of airtime to advocates of “happy meat.”

THE TRUTH:

Was essentially missing. So many important facts were missing from this “vegan” episode.  Not sure they will all get covered here, but here’s the short list:

~ Health Information: Since this was essentially a diet-related challenge, where was the vast amount of health information that is available about the benefits of a vegan diet for your health. There was literally no real mention of these important facts. ????  How about having a physician like Dr. Neal Barnard or Dr. Michael Gregor, or Dr. T. Colin Campbell on the show to give people the TRUTH about animal products and cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, etc. etc.? If you need more health information and articles, visit www.pcrm.org.

~ Real Video Coverage: of factory farming and slaughterhouses. Not planned visits to one facility. Where were the images of the billions of chickens and how they live out each day of their lives, not to mention the slaughter process.  And how about the life of a sow or a dairy cow? And the list goes on. At least Freston did get a moment to mention the fact that the billions of birds are killed in far worse conditions than what the audience saw in the video. Read more about the animals and about animal farming.  Plus check out some of the dirty secrets of animal agriculture at www.animalagribusiness.com.  And visit sites such as PETA & Mercy For Animals for investigative videos.

~ Other Vegans: It was a show about veganism. How about having some other vegans on the show?  Maybe a vegan athlete?

~ Animal Experts: How about having someone like Jonathan Balcombe or Dr. Marc Beckoff on to talk about the fact that animals have emotions and personalities and are not just items on an assembly line?

~ Environment: Yes, it was a show focused on diet, but how about just a little something regarding our planet and how eating animal products is depleting resources and having a serious impact on the Earth?

~ Vegan mentors for each participant: Freston could not help every single person who was trying to do this challenge with their families, etc.  Support is critical and could have made all the difference for some of the folks, especially the 78 who quit the challenge. Need help getting started? Check out our resources on www.livevegan.org and sign up for Meatout Mondays for weekly recipes and tips.

~ Audience Participation: Oprah is always giving stuff away. If there were samples of vegan foods for the audience, I am not aware of it.  Let the audience decide how some of these alternatives taste for themselves. I bet there are many food manufacturers who would have jumped right in.  We have several generous food manufacturers who support our campaigns and programs each year.  Check out the list of food donors for Meatout 2011 which takes place this March. Host your own event in your community and take advantage of these generous donations.

So what do you think? Was the Oprah vegan experiment a total disaster or did it have some positive, lasting effects? Let us know.

~ Cindi Saadi, FARM Blog

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