The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, as they are more commonly known (pronounced “pee-ta”, just like pita pocket) are one of those organizations that people tend to have very strong feelings about. They are arguably the most famous animal rights organization in the world and their name is vilified almost as often as it is revered.
Before I was a vegan, I didn’t hate PETA or anything but like so many members of the public, I had only one impression of them: they were “those crazy animal activist people”. I only knew them by some of their more shocking campaigns and by news footage of their protests, footage which usually showed them being dragged away by police after protesting outside of a retail store for one reason or another.
When I started to investigate on my own how food got to my plate, PETA was one of the first sites I turned to for information for the simple reason that they were the only ones I’d heard of. I didn’t really know where to begin and I had a lot of questions; their site was instrumental in getting me started. As I learned more about them as an organization, I also started to better understand where they were coming from and why they operate as they do. Ingrid Newkirk, PETA’s co-founder and president, has made it her mission in life to speak up for animals and to expose animal suffering and she is not opposed to using shock and awe to do so. From street theatre to trespassing to throwing red paint on fur coats, if that’s what it takes to get people’s attention and shake them out of their complacency, then that’s what they’ll do. While it’s not the only way PETA rolls, it’s certainly one of the ways and they are very famous for it.
Naturally, this has polarized some people including other animal rights organizations. Alex Pacheco, the other co-founder of PETA (no longer with the organization) says it well in the excellent documentary on PETA called, I Am An Animal: “The idea (of shock value) is that it brings attention to the issue. The problem is it’s so outrageous that it just brings attention to the fact that it’s outrageous.” Has PETA likely polarized people with some of their efforts? Undoubtedly. Even now that I’m a vegan, I’m still not a fan of all of their campaigns. But do I support their work? Absolutely. I may not be on board with all of their tactics but I am absolutely a believer in their mission to liberate animals from suffering.
I think people who dismiss animal rights sometimes use PETA as a reason to do so; vilifying PETA becomes another excuse not to question our own choices for fear that we’ll be aligning ourselves with “those crazy activist people”. So let me just say this, especially if you are on the fence about animal rights and one of those reasons is because the impression you have of PETA is off-putting: you can be a vegan and not be a fan of PETA. It’s okay! One is not required in order for the other to occur. There are many, many animal rights organizations out there and PETA is just one of them. At the end of the day, you must live by your own ethics and conscience. PETA can answer for themselves and defend their own choices. It is you who must answer for yours – your own values, your own ethics. Forget what PETA believes about animals – what is it that you believe?