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One on One with Peter Max

An artist with an activist's palette

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Legendary pop artist Peter Max has created such larger-than-life works as a freedom dove chiseled from a 7,000-pound section of the Berlin Wall. His “cosmic ’60s” art has appeared on posters for the Grammys as well as on U.S. postage stamps and the White House lawn. Still, there’s something other than visionary works of art being produced in Max’s New York studio: activism. Max, wife Mary, and daughter Libra—all vegans—frequently host events in the 24,000-square-foot studio space to raise awareness for environmental causes and animal rights. Here, Max, 72, pauses to talk with VT.

Q: How did you come to be a vegetarian, and then a vegan?

A: When I was in my mid-20s, in Paris, I met Swami Satchidananda. He introduced me to yoga, meditation, and a vegetarian diet. So, I became a vegetarian, and I stayed a vegetarian for many years. I helped Swami Satchidananda create yoga centers around the United States, and at the centers I met a lot of people who were vegan. And then I met Dr. Joel Fuhrman, who introduced me to what, as I remember it, he used to call salad in a glass (now known as Dr. Fuhrman’s Green Longevity Drink),* which I’ve been drinking every morning for 12 years.

Q: How has adopting a vegan diet influenced your outlook on life?

A: A vegan diet keeps you much calmer, it’s just the nature of it. A meat-eating diet gives you, sometimes, a bit of an edge, just like when you drink a lot of coffee, so I don’t drink coffee either.

Q: What cause matters to you most?

A: I’m completely an animal rights person. I would like animals not to suffer so much at the hands of humanity. I believe that in due time, human beings will respect other animals. (The ancient Greek physician) Hippocrates once said, “All souls are the same, just our bodies are different.” If people could really take that in and understand it, then they would respect a moth, a bug. If I see a bug crawling on the floor, I rush to the bug before my kitties get to him. I pick him up, take him to the park, and let him out where there are green plants and maybe a little bit of water so he doesn’t have to walk too far. I feel so good every time I do it. I tell you, it’s an overwhelming feeling. The bug is so small, and the feeling so huge.

Q: How have you been able to use your fame to champion animal rights?

A: Did you ever hear the story about Cindy Woo the cow? I was in Cincinnati, editing a short film, and I found out about a cow that escaped a nearby slaughterhouse by leaping over a six-foot fence. For seven days and nights I was on the phone, trying to get the cow released, and I couldn’t. It was painful for me. I finally got a call from a lawyer friend, who said, “Peter are you sitting down?” I said, “Yes,” and he said, “The cow is yours!” I sobbed like a little boy. We took the cow from Cincinnati to the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, N.Y., where she lived in peace for six years until she died.

Q: What was it about the cow’s story that moved you so deeply?

A: The fact that we deal with these cows like commodities instead of thinking about them like our own families, the same souls in different bodies.