Thursday, August 20, 2009

Like I Needed Another Reason to hate PETA?

I can think of few institutions that I abhor more than PETA, which ostensibly stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. But don't let them fool you; PETA is much more interested in perpetrating cruelty to humans. I'm embarrassed to say that I used to be a dues-paying member of PETA in high school. I was a vegetarian and regularly spent my weekends protesting the local department store that sold fur. I don't know if PETA was a reputable, beneficial organization back then, or if I just thought so in my youthful naivete.

I adamantly believe now that PETA not only doesn't help animals in any meaningful way, but that they actually harm both animals and people. Let's start with the billboard that is the inspiration for this post. It's just plain cruel, mean and nasty. It reeks of PETA's sense of humor, which tends to be either vicious or sexually explicit (I hesitate to link to this Bad Cats commercial, but if you haven't seen it, it's very funny. If only PETA stuck to such unambiguous animal rights issues!)

My second issue with the billboard is that it's totally false and misleading. Here's the bottom line: you can be fit or unfit regardless of whether you eat animal products. I was a vegetarian for 4 years in high school, and again after college for a few more years. I was also very very fat. It is possible to be a thin vegetarian, of course, but many of them aren't. An old friend I recently reconnected with has to weigh between 350-400 pounds, and brags that he hasn't eaten meat since he was 13. I would even argue that it's easier to lose weight or stay trim if you're not a vegetarian, because they have to rely on many carbohydrate-heavy foods like beans for protein. But what about high-protein meat substitutes or tofu, you may ask?

Those veggie burgers and fake meat products are full of soy, a phytoestrogen. Estrogens have profounds effects on the human body, many of which are not well understood. It would not surprise me if our ridiculously high rates of female-related cancers are partly because we take in far too many estrogens beyond what our bodies naturally produce, such as through oral contraceptives and hormones, and even eating large quantities of non-organic dairy products. All of the vegetarian and vegan propaganda stating that cancer rates are so much rarer in Asia, where soy foods are very common, completely omit the important disclaimer that in Asia soy is used as a condiment! They eat a few pieces of tofu on top of a dish, not soy-products for main courses for two or three meals a day. Most of their protein comes from fish. As for tofu, it's decent quality protein, but not nearly of the same quality as meat. For example, I get four protein exchanges at dinner per my food plan, which delivers seven grams of protein per serving. Four exchanges means I get 4 oz of beef, chicken, or fish, but I have to eat 16 oz of tofu to get the same protein value!

I'm saying this merely to shed some light on vegetarian propaganda. I'll reiterate that I think you can have a perfectly healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight anywhere along the spectrum from vegan to omnivore.

But, back to hating on PETA. PETA certainly does not act in the interest of animals; PETA members routinely adopt dogs under the auspices of the group and then euthanize the animals themselves. I remember when this happened in my area. In 2005, PETA arranged to adopt dogs that would have been humanely euthanized in Virginia animal shelters; they told the shelters that they would find homes for the animals and arrange for the unadoptable ones to be euthanized. Instead, PETA employees who were not trained in animal medicine took 100 dogs to the backwoods of Virginia and killed them. PETA continues to euthanize animals and openly defends this on its Web site.

PETA also has a history of theatrical, dramatic, and offensive "advocacy" campaigns. Remember the "holocaust on your plate" exhibit which juxtaposed images from Nazi death camps with photos of factory farming? Let's not forget PETA's President Ingrid Newkirk's quote, "A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy." I think that quote accurately captures PETA's position, which makes it very scary.

I love animals, and not just because they're tasty! I love my dog. I slow the car way down to avoid hitting squirrels. I take spiders outside instead of killing them. I go out of my way to try and buy body products that weren't tested on animals or that don't have animal ingredients. I spend three times as much money on the eggs from cage-free hens, and one day hope to have it together enough to get in on the kosher, grass-fed, organic beef that is now being sold in the D.C. area to groups who arrange to purchase the meat from the cow. I'm actually quite a reluctant omnivore, but I feel so much better when I eat animal protein, especially beef. I wish there were a way to have widespread better treatment of food animals; factory farming disturbs me, but I maintain a cognitive dissonance around it so I can eat food that nourishes and sustains me without feeling superbly guilty.

So, I love animals, but I can't stand PETA equating humans with other animals. "It's not that they bring animals up to the level of people; it's that they bring people down to the level of animals," my husband wisely says. I am truly sad that animals (especially primates) need to die for medical research, but I view it as a necessary evil. PETA unequivocally believes that there is no difference between a laboratory animal dying for research and a human dying from untreated diseases. I can't get behind that. I think we have a moral imperative to treat those research animals as humanely as their circumstances allow.

This brings me to my conclusion that the real heroes, the real animal rights advocates are the Temple Grandins of the world, who dedicate their careers to making animal lives as good as possible given the reality of our world. Grandin is a doctor of animal science who consults with the food industry to create humane animal livestock "best practices." On a smaller scale, I think the volunteers walking the dogs at the Humane Society make more of a contribution to animal welfare than PETA does. Some organizations have outlived their usefulness, and should just go away. Like PETA.


David said...

There is a very large percentage of my family which owes their lives directly to animal testing and research. Specifically, one parent has type-1 diabetes, which used to require the slaughter of about one sheep per week. Others rely on very very strong medicines to enable them to live.

If a million animals needed to die so that one human can live, that seems like a fair exchange to me.

Sarah said...

The truth is that everyone who has ever taken a pill, had a vaccine, or used a medical device is the beneficiary of animal research. In vivo studies are a prerequisite for FDA approval, as they should be! These morons who argue that you can get good surrogate markers in vitro don't understand research, or biology for that matter.