If you type “PETA” into YouTube’s search bar, the first page of over 24,000 results will display the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal’s famous “Meet Your Meat” video and an undercover lab investigation or two. However, keep scrolling and you will soon find an array of naked photo shoots with celebrities and a “recruitment video” which showcases porn star Jenna Jameson, nude, clinging sultrily to her bedsheets — interspersed with snippets of how important vegetarianism is. One comment asks sagely, “When will PETA start releasing pornos?” What may be an even more important question is: What happens when pornographic images of women are used to promote animal rights and veganism?
Founded in 1980, PETA describes its mission as one “dedicated to establishing and defending the rights of all animals.” This sounds like a platform that vegans of every variety can get behind; after all, we are animals, too! Veganism is one of today’s up-and-coming subcultures and word about it seems to be spreading fastest on college campuses. Over half of vegans in the U.S. made the transition away from animal products while they were college-aged, according to a recently published report by The Vegan Research Panel. PETA targeted college vegans as a consumer market with their May 2009 release of its “Vegan College Cookbook: 275 Easy, Cheap and Delicious Recipes to Keep Your Vegan at School.” But not all college vegans dashed to the bookstore when PETA’s cookbook hit the shelves. Why not? Does every college vegan believe in PETA? It seems that may not be the case, especially here at Mills.
Just to be clear, when we say PETA we are talking about the brilliant minds who brought us the Lettuce Ladies campaign (visit lettuceladies.com to view body shots of a dozen or so nearly nude women). While browsing the site, you may wonder where you can click to pay for a subscription to actual porn. Some links may be misleading, such as those which read “watch explicit video” in reference to a video which actually depicts slaughter house methods. Are we talking about animal rights or porn here?
And just who are these Lettuce Ladies, anyway? On the site, you can “meet” them, “score” with them, find out what turns them on, watch videos of them, or view a whole gallery of pictures where they sport a range of raunchy outfits from bikinis to bad cop suits. You may notice another reoccurring theme: many of the Lettuce Ladies also pose for Playboy. Some playmates have donated part of the money earned from their spreads in Playboy, and famous Playmate Pamela Anderson is one of the group’s main spokeswomen.
This gives a hardly subtextual message to the way all those veggie dogs are served: that to embrace veganism is to succumb to the sexiness of the Lettuce Ladies and to endorse pornographic images of women.
Don’t think the Lettuce Ladies are pornographic? Let us refresh our memory as to what constitutes pornography. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “the explicit description or exhibition of sexual subjects or activity in literature, painting, films, etc., in a manner intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic feelings; printed or visual material containing this.”
Recently, a PETA advertisement called “Veggie Love” was deemed so erotic it was banned from being shown during this year’s Super Bowl commercials. The PETA.org site boasts: “Veggie Love isn’t the first PETA video banned from the airwaves.” The tag line, “Vegetarians have better sex,” was supposedly the thrust (excuse the pun) of the 30-second clip, but what comes across loudest and clearest is the familiar message that women’s bodies are sexual objects.
Indeed, PETA’s overarching “go veg” message feels tacked onto its pornographic campaigns. Being bombarded with super sexual images of women doesn’t exactly call to mind “equal treatment for all animals.” Many Mills vegans are “turned off” by the Lettuce Ladies and other PETA campaigns. Nia King, a junior, suggests PETA is a ploy to discredit the animal rights movement itself: “The more I think about it, the more it makes sense. They alienate everybody by comparing factory farming to the Holocaust and to slavery. Most recently I read that they wanted to put an ad on the wall being built onto the U.S.-Mexican border telling Mexicans to stay in Mexico because the Mexican diet is healthier and Americans get more heart disease. They’re totally single issue.”
It is true. Right now, PETA “is warning immigrants that there’s much more to worry about than proper documentation.” The group is in the process of buying space at each of the nine southwest border sections to post a colorful, happy-looking painting which reads, “If the border patrol doesn’t get you, the chicken and burgers will. Go vegan.” Looks like PETA has really done their homework about Mexican diets, racism and border politics. To equate the issue of border policing — often fueled by racism and hatred — with the issue of heart disease is hugely problematic. Although PETA may intend the advertisement to increase the seriousness of the issue of heart disease, it only serves to treat the issue of racism perpetuated in border policing less seriously.
Mills vegan Lee Rose had some harsh words for PETA’s callousness. “PETA and the Truth campaign are the reasons I don’t have faith in activism. Pouring blood on someone’s fur coat isn’t going to make them love animals; it’s going to make them hate vegans. Why have a tantrum when you could actually be doing something constructive?” It is a good question. Alienation is not what will eventually turn the world vegan.
This is evidenced even in our tiny world at Mills. Junior Andee Sunderland, for example, pledges to eat a burger every time PETA uses “what are supposed to be shock tactics, but which are actually degrading to women and people in general.” As a result, she has eaten three burgers in the past year alone. If she were strictly following the rule, she would have eaten far more — but for the most part Sunderland stays vegetarian.
The last burger she ate was in response to PETA’s “Save the Whales” campaign, which covered Jacksonville, Fla.’s billboards with an image of a large woman in a bikini against text that read, “Save the Whales. LOSE THE BLUBBER: GO VEGETARIAN.” This advertisement has been widely shamed in the blogosphere, but PETA has hardly responded with an apology. Instead, when the organization was forced to take down the advertisement, they replaced it with a blanked out canvas which read, “GONE. Just Like All the Pounds Lost by People Who Go Vegetarian.” Although the message is supposed to be a “helpful hint” to obese Americans (as PETA President Ingrid Newkirk says in a CNN interview) it seems the real inability to take a hint is seen in PET’s sexist, racist, fat-phobic campaigning.
As first-year Ava Anderson says, PETA “may have good intentions, but they alienate most people.” It sure seems that they have succeeded in alienating a few Mills students, vegan and omnivore alike.