Part 2 of an Interview with Mary Max
Mary Max is a full-time activist who has awakened many people to the realities of animal cruelty. Mary is a Board Member of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Humane USA–PAC and the New York Coalition For Healthy School Food. She is also on Farm Sanctuary’s Advisory Council and on the Advisory Board of the League of Humane Voters (LOHV).
Mary is married to the well-known artist Peter Max whose psychedelic style made him prominent in the art world in the l960’s. Since then, Peter Max’s career has included painting for Presidents Carter, Ford, Bush, Reagan and Clinton, the Grammy Awards and the World Cup Soccer Tournament. He personally helped bring about the restoration of the Statue of Liberty.
LG: Lots of people have animals in their homes, dogs, cats, birds, even rabbits, but they don’t think what animals that are used for food, clothing and entertainment go through. How did you become aware of farm animal suffering?
MM: Peter was having an event at his studio for orangutans, and Isabella Rossellini was supposed to be hosting it. But she was stuck in Italy on a film set. Then later, she called to say sorry she couldn’t make it, let’s have lunch. So I was excited to have lunch with Isabella Rossellini, and at one point in the lunch she starts talking about factory farming. I thought, what are you talking about? You know, like we all are when we first learn something. My world completely changed in one second. With this loss of innocence was shock. I’m an intelligent person, I thought, how do I not know about this? It’s not on the news; it’s not in the papers. I was stunned. I already told you that my dad was one bad apple, but how is cruelty on such a mass scale sanctioned?!
That evening every animal became my Miss October. I began reading, watching, talking to others, making sure this was really true. And it is! So, the leather, fur, the crocodile bags went. It was not “Oh, no, I have to give these up.” There was no struggle, no loss for me. I was glad to be rid of them. It took me a few months to figure out the food, though.
LG: I’m curious how you went from changing your personal habits and lifestyle to being connected with the animal advocacy groups you work with.
MM: I guess it was one of those things that was meant to be. I remember it was January l, 2001, and I was in Candle Café having my New Year’s Day meal like every year. I was there for healthy eating, not for animals. Near my table were all the holiday cards. On one of the cards was a picture of a man and a woman sitting with a pig – or maybe it was a cow, I can’t remember which one right now. Well, it was Gene and Laurie from Farm Sanctuary. I said to Peter I want to start doing something. So the next day, January 2nd, I called Farm Sanctuary and they put me in touch with Carol Moon.
LG: Carol Moon. She is Farm Sanctuary’s representative in New York City.
MM: Yes, and she needed help with Farm Sanctuary’s veal campaign. And I said “here I am, let me do it.” And I did. It was around this time that Farm Sanctuary was holding their first gala, and Carol Moon introduced me to Linda Nealon. Linda had been an amazing animal advocate for many, many years. Linda Nealon was good friends with Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society. I’ll tell you what it was like. It was like being a struggling, new actor and all of a sudden you have a part in a film with Tom Cruise and Cate Blanchett. By no means am I saying I am a celebrity, but here I was with these people who knew everyone in the animal rights world. It opened a whole new world for me.
LG: What are some of the issues these animal welfare groups face? I don’t mean a specific campaign, like showing the horrors of foie gras or how terrible elephants are treated in the circus, but the bigger picture.
MM: Do you mean the obstacles?
LG: Yes, obstacles, or even just issues around the whole concept of animal welfare.
MM: Oh, geez. There are so many. Let me think. I guess I would say getting mainstream America to think about animals. It’s hard for them, in a way, because they don’t live with pigs and cows. The real way farm animals are treated is not seen on the nightly news.
Even though people may not have someone in their family fighting in Iraq, American soldiers are seen in the news. But people are not being bombarded with images of cows, sheep, pigs and chickens being abused.
LG: Bombarded? I would say most people have no idea what goes on.
MM: Exactly. So the issue is really two-fold. One is getting the media to show these images and the other is to get people to consider them. You know, you can sit back and see a film about the Holocaust, and you can be horrified. People can bemoan it, but they don’t have to do anything. People really don’t want to know about a chicken being tortured because then they have to do something, to change their lifestyle.
(to be continued)