The latest news buzz surrounds the flu epidemic that is sweeping the U.S. Currently, 47 states have wide-spread flu activity, with increasing cases and death tolls climbing. The most affected population is infants, the elderly, and those with already compromised immune systems. However, we ALL (as in the the entire world) should be concerned with this recent outbreak because according to the World Health Organization, “We know another [influenza] pandemic is inevitable…It is coming. And when this happens, we also know that we are unlikely to have enough drugs, vaccines, health-care workers and hospital capacity to cope in an ideal way.”

The tv show, The Doctors, did a special episode yesterday regarding the outbreak, reporting that hospitals are over-flowing with patients, people are becoming “sicker” than usual and more deaths are occurring. The show’s host Dr. Travis Stork and his guest doctors all pushed prevention by way of getting the flu vaccine, with only one doctor recommending healthy habits all year by advising individuals to eat right, exercise, properly manage stress and to get plenty of sleep.

As I watched the show, I just kept thinking about that lone doctor that mentioned healthy habits year-round to combat illness and I recalled a chapter from Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, “Eating Animals,” in where he discusses influenza and worldwide pandemics. Health authorities have come to a consensus that an influenza pandemic is inevitable and that it will stem from new viruses that move between farmed animals and humans, zoonotic diseases.

And when you stop and think about it, the notion of an influenza pandemic being borne from the world’s farmed animals is not hard to imagine. The world’s birds (domestic and wild) harbor the full spectrum of flu strains and when you look at the current ways of raising these animals for food – genetically manipulated, deformed, drugged, over crowded, and stressed living in waste-coated cages/rooms with no access to fresh air, sunlight, or natural food sources – these practices are anything BUT healthy.

Studies show that chickens and turkeys consumers are purchasing at grocery stores are contaminated with E. coli, salmonella, and campylobacter (a deadly pathogen), among other nasty things like feces, chlorine and antibiotics. Overwhelmingly, food borne illnesses come from animal products, with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reporting poultry as the largest culprit. Studies show that even organic and antibiotic-free chicken have pathogens present at the time of consumer purchase. The CDC reports, 76 million cases of food borne illnesses in the U.S. every year.

On the other side of the coin, we are feeding livestock 24.6 million pounds of antibiotics every year for nontherapeutic reasons, and most of those are illegal in the European Union. America’s food system is the perfect breeding ground for creating drug resistant pathogens or “superbugs.” Not to mention, we are a sicker nation more prone to illness with heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity at all time highs (all of which have been linked to diets consisting heavily of animal products). The country’s increase in demand for animal protein has come at the ultimate price – our health. Jonathan Safran Foer sums it up best, “When we eat factory-farmed meat we live, literally, on tortured flesh. Increasingly, that tortured flesh is becoming our own.”

Fortunately, the good news is there’s a cure! Adopting a whole foods, plant-based diet improves human health, eliminates animal suffering and improves the health of the planet. Reducing your intake of saturated fat, animal hormones (and antibiotics), and cholesterol found in animal products and increasing your intake of vitamins and minerals found in plant foods, you fuel your body for optimal health so it can effectively fight off disease. Coupling a vegan diet with regular exercise, proper stress management and plenty of sleep is what the doctor ordered in preventing the flu and other illnesses. Live well this cold and flu season and all year. For more information on adopting a vegan diet and taking back your health, please visit LiveVegan.org.

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Safran Foer, Jonathan. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown and Company. 2009. Print.

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

As animal advocacy nonprofits are in the direct business of helping animals, supporting these organizations (financially and/or as a volunteer) is always an effective way of benefiting the animals.  So we’ll start our list with No. 1) Direct Support and go from there with 11 more ideas for how you can make a difference for the animals in 2011.

2 ~ Stay informed. Read the latest, as well as the classic animal rights and vegan health-related books so you can pass along that knowledge to others. Watch videos & films and share them with others. You might even start a book discussion group. See this article about how one Connecticut town is reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals (while the selection for younger readers is Our Farm, by the Animals of Farm Sanctuary). Or host a screening of a powerful film such as The Cove or Peaceable Kingdom at your local library or other community building.

3 ~ Spend time WITH the animals & SHARE your experiences with others. Nothing is quite as powerful as your personal story. Visit animal sanctuaries, roll up your sleeves and volunteer, sponsor an animal, and take lots of photos or video to share online.

Liz Longacre of Your Time Travels meets the elephants! Photo by Jaime Careathers

Let other people see these beautiful animals and hear about your experiences with them.

You could even make your next vacation one that involves helping the animals too. (See Your Time Travels for vacations involving volunteer projects benefiting the animals.) Aside from monetary support, animal sanctuaries often have wish lists. See if one near you needs something you can donate.

4 ~ Commit to sharing a minimum number of animal rights/vegan advocacy books/DVDs this year. It’s a great way to spread the message. Instead of loaning out your books ~ buy copies to give away. You can also donate copies of important books to your local library, coffee shop, hospital, or community center. Check with the publisher ~ they may have special bulk offers for people who are purchasing books for donation.

5 ~ Prepare a vegan meal for a community group or business. Take a delicious vegan lunch and educational materials to your hair salon, parent’s group at school, doctor’s office, fire station, etc.

6 ~ Utilize your personal talents & gifts for the animals! Do an inventory of your skills and gifts and see how you can help the animals in a unique and creative way. Are you an artist? Do you make videos or write music? (See Etsy’s Vegan Etsy Team and Etsy For Animals. Or visit sites such as Our Hen House’s ‘Art of the Animal’ section for news about creative endeavors for the animals.) Maybe you are an up and coming vegan chef? Or maybe you enjoy speaking, coaching, or teaching? Dedicate time in 2011 to using your gifts for the animals! They need YOU! Reach out to others who do what you do and create a supportive network.

7 ~ Have a list of ready-to-share vegan resources (vegan cookbook titles, vegan blog sites, product suggestions, etc.). Concrete resources are critical for someone transitioning to a vegetarian or vegan diet. FARM’s Meatout Mondays is an effective resource as it includes recipes with easy-to-find ingredients, as well as product information, health articles, and inspirational stories. Sites like www.LiveVegan.org, www.TryVeg.com, Healthy Happy Life, and This Just In from VegNews are just a few sites loaded with resources. Offer to help a friend by having a vegan cooking get-together and sharing your recipes and tips.

It’s also important to have resources available for your local restaurants, stores, and cafeterias so that when you ask them to serve vegan options, you can provide them with very specific information. Several sites (i.e. Compassion Over Killing, Mercy For Animals, FARM Underground) have guides available online and manufacturers will often send you flyers to give to your local stores.

8 ~ Join the conversation. Get involved with your favorite organizations, vegan businesses, and vegan/animal rights bloggers on Facebook, Twitter, their blogs, and other social networking sites. Share their information with your network. Drive more people to these great organizations, businesses, & bloggers with your comments and postings. See the FARM Links page for a sampling of animal rights and vegan blogs, organizations, businesses, and more. And don’t forget to join FARM on Facebook and Twitter!

9 ~ Add your voice to the pro-animal blog community. Start your own blog and help spread the word about compassion for all beings and the many benefits of living vegan. If you REALLY get into it, you might consider attending the Vida Vegan Conference, the first ever vegan blogger conference, to be held in Portland in August 2011.

10 ~ Raise awareness in your community with a letter. Write letters to the editor of your local paper regarding animal rights issues, health issues related to consuming animal products, and environmental concerns associated with animal agriculture. Many animal rights organizations have letter-writing programs (such as FARM’s Letters Program) that you can be a part of. You can also speak out for the animals by adding comments to relevant online editorials.

11 ~ Think before you speak! Be thoughtful about what you say, write, and do.  As an animal advocate you are part of an important and well-scrutinized cause. Strive for effective advocacy and ask yourself if your words and actions are more likely to help or hurt the animals.

12 ~ Celebrate success! Celebrating is an important part of any effective venture. Take time to celebrate and acknowledge individuals and organizations working hard on behalf of the animals. Highlight what’s working well and we’re sure to see more of it! Let the world see that important changes are happening NOW for the animals. And don’t forget to acknowledge yourself for the energy and passion you put into making life better for the animals.

Sweet Red asks, "How will YOU help the animals in 2011?" ~ Photo by Cindi A. Saadi

2011 offers us a great opportunity to honor and serve the animals with our time, gifts, talents, energy, and love. How will you help to make 2011 a beautiful & victorious year for the animals?

~ Cindi Saadi for the FARM blog

In his book, Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer reports that approximately 18% of college students in the U.S. are vegetarian.  In a recent video interview with the Commonwealth Club of California, he points out that these students are not just at big urban schools where one might expect to find larger concentrations of vegetarians, but they are also at schools in America’s “heartland.”  He also noted that half of this group of vegetarian/vegan students want more vegetarian options available to them on campus.

This growing collegiate trend toward a plant-based diet was highlighted recently in a Philadelphia Inquirer article. The article featured information from Bon Apétit Management Company which services more than 4,000 corporate, college, and university accounts. Based on information the company collected from college and university students in 2005-2006 and then again in 2009-2010, there was a 50% increase in vegetarian students (up from 8% to 12%) and the percentage of vegan students doubled from 1% to 2%.

PETA2, the student wing of PETA, recently released their annual nominee list for the Most Vegan Friendly College, which includes encouraging examples of schools where university staff regularly meet with student representatives to discuss new menu options. As off-campus restaurants begin offering more vegetarian and vegan options, the pressure for campus dining facilities to compete gets even greater.  Even the University of Texas at Austin, in the heart of cowboy country, offers a great variety of hard to resist vegan foods, including vegan barbeque riblets! Go to the Peta2 site today to place your vote!

Millennials, also known as members of Generation Y, range in age anywhere from adolescence to around 30, and thus include traditional college-age students.  According to a Pew Research Center article, millennials are reported to be the most progressive generation in modern history.  In the above-mentioned interview, Foer says that the conversation is changing, particularly on college campuses, from “why don’t you eat meat?” to “why do you eat so much meat?” He suggests that eating meat could go the way of cigarette smoking.  It will still be legal and people may still choose to do it, but far less often, and if they do, particularly in excess, it will require more of an explanation.

If you are a college student and would like to see more vegetarian/vegan options at your school, check out FARM Underground’s information and resources.  If you are not currently in school, but would like to see more of your area restaurants and stores offering compassionate menu choices and products, check out Compassion Over Killing’s Restaurant Outreach Guide, filled with tips on approaching your favorite establishments.  Also, Mercy For Animals’ VegetarianDining Campaign site, offers PDF files including a guide to veganizing your school cafeteria and a resource guide for restaurant owners

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