I am deeply saddened by the loss of my friend and colleague, Vegucated’s executive producer, Mary Max, a tireless advocate for animals. In all the press about her death, there has been no mention of Mary’s life’s work. For the media to focus exclusively on tawdry domestic disputes over her celebrity husband and to extinguish two decades of important work for animals not only tarnishes her memory but is painful to those who knew her work. Here I hope to provide a more accurate picture of Mary and her tremendous legacy.
I worked with Mary on animal protection issues and raising awareness about healthy, humane, eco-friendly living from about 2002 until about 2011, first as a volunteer activist with her and then as the first employee of a non-profit she and Peter started called Kind Green Planet, which has since closed down. Together, we made the film Vegucated, which won several awards and enjoyed a long digital presence on Netflix and is still can be found on iTunes, Amazon Prime, etc. It has inspired many to try plant-based living.
Kind Green Planet employed Joyce Friedman, a social worker/animal advocate who worked in conjunction with NYC Animal Care & Control and then eventually with the Humane Society of the United States to help troubleshoot people’s problems with their companion animals so that they wouldn’t have to surrender them to the shelter. That initiative kept thousands of NYC animals in their homes.
A passionate advocate for healthy eating, Mary was a founding board member of the Coalition for Healthy School Foods. Brad Goldberg, long-time leader within the organization, recalled in an email yesterday to the board members how very generous she was over the years “providing us space at the studio for events as well as many items for our auctions including some of her personal jewelry.”
Farm Sanctuary, one of the country’s premiere farm animal protection organizations, recognized her critical work with a prestigious award. Gene Baur, co-founder of the organization, remembers Mary as “a powerhouse, organizing and motivating people in NYC to get active for animals. She did amazing work in our veal campaign, convincing some of the city’s top restaurants to stop serving veal from crated calves.”
She worked hard to change laws to protect animals. She started Humane USA-PAC with a few others in the early 2000’s to held elect humane-minded legislators nationwide. Locally, she helped Allie Feldman Taylor with the launch of Voters for Animal Rights, an organization that helps elect humane-minded legislators. In the statement on their Facebook page, Allie says, “When we first started VFAR with nothing but a dream and a few hundred bucks, Mary lifted us up by hosting our launch party at the Max studio. She had a knack for local politics and understood the importance of political action for animals. She built relationships with countless elected officials. Through her instinctive savviness, she convinced many elected officials to support animal rights legislation, and even convinced some to go vegan.”
Mary held fundraisers for the likes of Scott Stringer and Mayor DiBlasio in Peter’s art studio. She worked with Stringer on his Community Fund for Manhattan initiative. She had DiBlasio’s ear, and DiBlasio has gone on to institute Meatless Mondays in NYC schools and to sign the NYC Green New Deal, which plans to reduce city purchasing of red meat by 50% and cease purchasing of processed meat entirely.
Mary had a weekly action alert email list for years that encouraged people to contact legislators on various animal-friendly bills and she helped me gather, on a volunteer basis before we started our non-profit, 1100 signatures in favor of a Pets in Housing bill.
Though she was only in her 40’s in her prime activist years, Mary served as a matriarch of sorts within the NYC activist scene. She took one new activist after another under her wing, mentored us, supported us, and empowered us with resources and knowledge. She helped fledgling organizations, activists, authors, and filmmakers launch their careers and their works into the public eye. Here are just a few examples of her amazing mentorship and support:
She produced the sold-out world premiere of the award-winning documentary Peaceable Kingdom directed by Jenny Stein of Tribe of Heart at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center and continued to support them in the distribution of their film, partly through screenings of it all across North America that I organized through our non-profit.
She hosted two book launches for bestselling author Victoria Moran.
She mentored Jasmin Singer, co-founder of Our Hen House, a media hub for animal rights. She paid for Jasmin to intern at PETA for 2 weeks when Jasmin was trying to find her way into the activist community. Mary is mentioned as a big influence in Jasmin’s memoir, Always Too Much and Never Enough.
She mentored Rachel Atcheson, Deputy Strategist at Brooklyn Borough Hall, working with Eric Adams, who has spearheaded many initiatives to reverse disease through plant-based living. He was able to reverse his diabetes with a plant-based diet.
She mentored activist/bestselling vegan cookbook author/blogger Annie Shannon, who had worked for Humane Society of the US. From a Facebook post by Annie: “She got me seats at fashion shows all over the world, helped fund my ideas like the Cool vs Cruel fashion contest and the first fur-free fashion show at NYC fashion show. She made my dreams as an advocate for animals a reality and I know I am not the only one. She was a real friend and savior to animals.”
Finally, she mentored me when I was a fledgling activist who wanted to work full-time for the animals and help people understand the benefits of plant-based living. She started Kind Green Planet just so she could pay me to give vegan workshops and produce community film screenings all over North America. She called me her “seventh kitty” and was “adopting me.” I was so grateful. When I came to her with my documentary film idea, she said, “let’s do it!” And we did.
Once, when I was feeling down about my own activism, saying it just wasn’t enough to make much of a difference, she said that we each have a tiny piece to place in a big, beautiful mosaic, and everyone’s contribution matters.
Mary had a complicated personal life, to be sure, but her piece in the mosaic was larger than most, and it mattered. The world needs to know that.
We will post another story featuring stories from activists whose lives were impacted by Mary. If you would like to submit one, please email me at marisa[at]getvegucated[dot]com.