Maya Gottfried is the author of the acclaimed children’s books Our Farm: By the Animals of Farm Sanctuary and Good Dog. She has also written for print and online publications including Huffington Post, VegNews, People online, and Lilith magazine, often focusing on the topics of veganism and animal rights. Maya has worked in public relations in the fields of music, publishing, and animal welfare. She just bought a charming farmhouse on the outskirts of Beacon, New York, where she lives with her partner and their three adopted cats, making frequent trips to her Brooklyn apartment.
Chic Vegan: What motivated you to become vegan? Was it an overnight switch or more gradual shift?
Maya Gottfried: Before I became vegan, I was vegetarian for a year. I had discovered Farm Sanctuary and reconnected with the love of all animals I’d had as a child. I learned about the individual personalities and experiences of the animals who live at Farm Sanctuary’s shelters, and at the same time I was learning about the horrors of animal agriculture. I, like so many, had always considered myself an animal lover, but had been completely blocked from that love when I was putting food in my mouth. Farm Sanctuary made the connection for me again, and I finally saw that I was in fact hurting the beings who I loved: beings with friends and family, likes and dislikes, and a desire to live, just like I had. Vegetarianism was the first step for me, but I soon realized it wasn’t enough. Sitting at my desk one night, I realized that I simply could not deny the suffering I was causing by eating (and using) any animal products and at that point I instantly went vegan.
CV: When people learn that you are vegan, what is the number one question they ask and what is your response?
MG: It’s funny, I do still get the classic questions about protein. Asvegans, we do so much to dispel the myth that a plant-based diet lacks protein yet people still cling onto it. As much as I can demonstrate to people how healthy and happy I am, I do. I think that by seeing me thrive is the best way to show people that I get plenty of protein. I also explain that I had stage three colorectal cancer which has not come back in the nine years since I was diagnosed, and eating a healthy plant-based diet is the best defense I have against its return. “I’m healthier than ever,” I tell them, and that I’ve never had a problem with protein.
CV: Tell me a little bit about Vegan Love and what inspired you to write it.
MG: I re-entered the dating scene following my cancer treatments a relatively new vegan. At the time a friend suggested that I not tell potential partners that I was vegan. A close relative suggested that men would see me as “high maintenance” because I was vegan and that it was not a smart choice for a single woman in her thirties. I have to admit, in the back of my head I was a little nervous about what the response would be. But I realized that veganism was a beautiful part of me, something I was doing to save animals’ lives. Why would I want to hide that? I decided to be an out and proud vegan, and included the fact that I was on my online dating profile. I met vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores. I found that when I was a proud, happy vegan, not ashamed or insecure, and also not telling others how they should live their lives, the men I dated responded in a very positive way. I wrote an article about my experiences and the response was strong. Clearly there needed to be more of a conversation about this topic. I decided to write a book to support other women who were trying to navigate their love lives as vegans. The book is for women (heterosexual and LGBTQ) who are dating or in long-term relationships. I didn’t want to be a guru, but rather provide the collective wisdom of many. I interviewed more than 30 vegan women and some of their partners. In addition to chapters on relationships, the book also takes on more practical matters like fashion, makeup, date destinations, and planning a vegan wedding.
CV: Why do you think it’s important for vegan women to tell their dates that they’re vegan?
MG: There are two reasons I think it’s important to share. One is, that most dates take place over a meal, or beverages. In interviewing so many women for the book, the one date disaster story I heard was when a woman didn’t want to tell her date she was vegan, and he proceeded to order food for them to share that was not vegan. She sat in silence and suffered, not eating, afraid to tell her date that it was because she was vegan. There’s no reason to be ashamed of being vegan. It is a beautiful part of us. Simply gently sharing that one is veganprevents an uncomfortable date such as this one. Dating is about having fun, not suffering. If someone criticizes or judges you for being vegan, is that someone you really want to date? I’m not suggesting that we all need to announce to our dates in a dramatic way that we are vegan, but that we shouldn’t hide it. If our veganism is coming into play such as when we are going on a dinner date, of course we should bring it up to be sure that we will be able to eat. I consider veganism a beautiful part of me, so when sharing who I am with someone I am getting to know, I want to include it. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Veganism is a shining light in our lives, why would we want to hide it from someone we are interested in?
CV: What is the top piece of advice you would give to a vegandating an omnivore?
MG: To really tune into their own feelings. Many vegans will be completely happy dating omnivores while others will find it too uncomfortable to bear. It’s for each of us to decide in what situation we are happy. So many of the women I interviewed for the book who were involved with omnivores saw those meat-eaters inspired to move in a vegan direction. Time after time I heard about vegans in relationships with meat-eaters who began eating fewer animals and animal products, sometimes going vegan themselves. Vegan love truly spreads and those omnivores may not have cut out the cruelty if it weren’t for the vegan in their lives. So by living an example of a happy healthy vegan within the context of a relationship with an omnivore, you may be helping the animals by inspiring someone else to stop eating them.
CV: What’s your favorite thing to do on a date?
MG: My all-time favorite date is visiting a farm animal sanctuary. My partner, Dietrich (who is also vegan) and I are lucky enough to live just a few minutes away from Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary in Poughquag, NY. For my birthday we spent the morning at Safe Haven, meeting the residents and learning about their histories. We then ate a wonderful lunch at our favorite Indian restaurant (which is mostly vegan), and then explored a local village that we enjoy. When we have more time we sometimes will spend a weekend at Farm Sanctuary, in Watkins Glen, NY.
CV: You’re a cancer survivor. Do you think your veganismcontributed to your recovery?
MG: Absolutely. I had stage 3 colorectal cancer in two places. While I was going through chemotherapy I read the book The China Study. I learned that eating a whole foods plant-based diet was key to my recovery and preventing the cancer from returning. Not only did the healthy food help me combat the difficult side effects of the treatment, but I am certain that it has helped prevent the disease from coming back. It was also helpful to see Kris Carr as a guest on Oprah while I was sick. She also promoted a plant-based diet, yoga, and green juices as key in fending off cancer, and provided a community of people incorporating these into their wellness journeys. It was wonderful to have that community to turn to in my path to good health.
CV: What is your favorite vegan indulgence?
MG: I have to say that nothing compares with the glory of a fresh, ripe avocado.
CV: In your wildest dreams, what will your life look like in 5 years?
MG: I have a few book projects in various stages of development that I would love to see come to fruition. And I greatly enjoy my work for the nonprofit Animals Asia, so I hope to continue that. Really, I would love to continue along this path of writing, working for the animals, living with Dietrich (my vegan love), our three rescued cats (Bunny, Lucian, and Gandalf), and enjoying our home in the country. And life often hands out beautiful, unpredictable surprises, so I will stay open to what the universe brings my way.