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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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Anyone who has followed MADD since their inception 20 years ago knows that they have gradually drifted from the worthy mission of keeping drunks off the road into becoming a band of expansionist neo-Prohibitionists, eager to end happy hours, increase alcohol excise taxes and penalize every driver who has had anything stronger than a spoonful of cough syrup. But MADD has been joined in their boo chorus by plenty of conservative editorialists, who often regard PETA as humorless scolds. To which the glib part of me says: "Here is a group that promotes naked supermodels and drinking beer. Remind me, again, why I'm supposed to dislike them."

But the rest of me chafes when my esteemed colleagues suggest they are on to PETA. Even my own magazine has deemed them "the highly annoying group of busybodies that pursues its mission under the banner of 'animal rights.'" Like-minded conservatives congratulate themselves on discovering PETA's veiled agenda of say, saving kid goats from being boiled alive to make gloves, as actually being about converting us all to veganism. Despite these epiphanies, there is nothing veiled about PETA's agenda. Of course they'd like us to all be vegans, to which I say--so what? It will never happen. Even PETA knows they'll never be able to save all animal-kind by winning the meat wars. People like me, who are otherwise sympathetic, will never let them. I think it's great that they shine a light on the mistreatment of dairy cows. Still, I'd rather eat my own shoe than Tofutti ice cream.

That is what is commendable about PETA. To be against all animal suffering is intellectually consistent. To admit that you can't stop it, and do your best to stop it anyway, is heroic. They don't let the perfect (having mankind refrain from consuming all animals or animal byproducts) be the enemy of the good (saving animals wherever possible, or ensuring the treatment of animals, even animals raised for slaughter, is more humane). Take their anti-fur campaign, for instance, directed at an industry which often sees animals boiled or skinned alive. I have always thought it a bit presumptuous to assume that animals should be grateful to us for the oxymoronic proposition of "humane killing." If they'd been blessed with the gift of language, they'd probably say something like, "Gee, thanks." Still, not suffering is better than suffering. And if I am a rabbit, I suppose it doesn't make a dime's worth of difference to me whether I am being killed for my pelt or for my meat. But at least having PETA pulling for me on the former--even if it's by throwing a dead raccoon in Vogue editor Anna Wintour's soup, as they once did--increases my chances of not being killed.

Sure, PETA in their overexuberance often aims wide of the mark. They lost me when they fought for the town of Fishkill, New York, to be renamed "Fishsave." Likewise, they did the same when they tried to get the Green Bay Packers (named after meat packers) renamed the Green Bay Six-Packers (a change many of the inebriated regulars at Lambeau Field would've probably applauded). And while it makes sense that all of God's creatures should be extended our mercies, I cannot utter the words "lobster liberation" without breaking into giggle fits.

But then there are their perfectly reasonable campaigns. While PETA president Ingrid Newkirk has expressed dismay that fast-food consumers seem to be under the impression that their hamburgers come from some pastoral "hamburger patch," she knows that inviting McDonald's consumers to take slaughterhouse tours (which would surely see a spike in the number of vegetable gardens nationwide) isn't tenable. But what PETA did do was pass out "Unhappy Meal" horror-story packages, forcing McDonald's to confront the fact that they were buying chickens raised in a space that was less than the size of a sheet of paper, buying pigs that spent their entire lives squeezed into cement stalls unable to turn around or even nuzzle their offspring, and only requiring 1 in 20 animals to be fully stunned before their throats were slit.

Once we've completed our abattoir ethics symposiums, of course, it is a whole different matter whether it is moral to eat meat in the first place? I have, and will continue to do so, for three very simple reasons:

(A) Because it's convenient, and I can.

(B)Because it tastes too good to stop.

(C) Because it's hard for me to work up a full head of steam against eating animals, when animals seem to have no compunction about eating each other.