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For the Love of PETA

A group that promotes naked supermodels and beer drinking can't be all bad.

12:00 AM, Oct 1, 2002 • By MATT LABASH
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THE LAW OF AVERAGES dictates that if you spend enough time writing for a living, you will eventually make embarrassing disclosures about yourself. Here is mine: Of all the crank left-wing groups I am paid to periodically encounter, I've always harbored a secret soft spot for my friends at the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. This is not an easy admission. For the only thing I like better than eating meat once a day, is eating meat two or three times a day. If they made meat desserts, I'd push for four. Meat and I--we've had some great times together.

Still, though it doesn't happen often, there is always the slight pang of conscience when I stop to consider that the plate of flesh and bone in front of me was once one of God's living, breathing, sentient creatures. It was a creature with a mom, a creature that could be affectionate or hungry or scared or feel pain, a creature that my kid throws his arms around when he encounters it at a state fair. It is a creature who was slaughtered because in creation's hierarchy, it does not enjoy primacy over my appetites.

To live with myself, I cheat, pretending that animal welfare is of great importance to me. I don't hunt. I give my pet labrador--or "companion animal" as PETA would have it--inordinate amounts of table food (he especially likes meat). And whenever I go to restaurants, I order veal--doing my bit to ensure that those poor calves don't have to spend any more time in one of those wretched crates.

But there is one other thing I do, which is to quietly root for PETA. It doesn't really matter how provocative their latest media campaign is. When they stripped Kim Basinger and Christy Turlington down to their birthday suits, having them declare they'd "rather go naked than wear fur," I could think of no other apparel I would have rather seen them in. A few years ago, PETA took advantage of a medical study saying that avid dairy consumers experienced higher incidences of prostate cancer, by parodying the milk industry's "Got Milk?" campaign with a billboard featuring a milk-mustachioed Rudy Giuliani asking "Got Prostate Cancer?" Having been recently diagnosed with the disease, Giuliani threatened to sue. PETA yanked the ad. But I took subversive pleasure, knowing that broad-bottomed, milk-fed steak-heads driving past the billboard in Oshkosh or Fond du Lac would nearly drive off the road in a snit, oblivious to the implication that they could be suffering adverse health effects from downing the milk of factory farm cows who are shot full of unhealthy growth hormones, kept constantly impregnated and permanently confined to rib-hugging pens, and who are then milked with machines until they bleed or suffer bacterial infections.

Now, PETA has raised everyone's Irish again by reprising their "Got Beer? ! . . . Better than Milk" ads, which they had pulled out of deference to Mothers Against Drunk Driving after the campaign was originally launched two years ago. PETA is not merely content to show that, according to Department of Agriculture Nutritional Data, a cup of beer has less fat, sodium, cholesterol, and fewer calories than a cup of 2 percent milk.

They've also issued trading cards with mascots illustrating milk's detrimental effects. Chubby Charlie lets us know that when "you put a 'milk mustache' on your lips, you are likely to add extra inches to your hips.'" Pimply Patty lets us know that some doctors think milk-drinking contributes to acne. Loogie Louie informs that milk is a "mucus maker." And just in case your cast-iron stomach has still managed to retain its contents, PETA's "Got . . . pus?" campaign informs us that every cupful of milk contains somatic cells, commonly known as pus. (Robert Cohen, author of "Milk: A-Z" says that a "milk mustache" should be called a "milk pustache.")

Naturally, MADD is again, well, mad. Since the beer campaign is targeted at college students at "party schools" like Florida State University, MADD is decrying PETA as "putting cows before kids" by encouraging our young people to binge drink. But of course, they are doing no such thing. They are simply making a point that beer--which medical science now claims when consumed in moderation can decrease the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes--is just as healthy, and perhaps even healthier, than milk. (It is instructive to note that the average American only drinks several ounces of milk a day--hardly enough to foster alcoholism in a straight beer-for-milk tradeoff.)