I've been following PZ Myers for a few months and you'll see he's on my blog list under Pharyngula. He's an atheist, whereas I would put myself in the agnostic camp, so I don't always agree with his hard line against theists. He's a scientist as well, so I don't always understand the science he's describing, but I find the topics interesting nevertheless. I admire his energy, intellectual vigor, honesty, and courage in being able to see the "heart" of many an issue, and to stand up for what he believes, even when it means criticizing powerful voices in his own community, or people he identifies as friends.
So I felt myself in good company when he announced that he is embracing a vegan diet after reading a recent Rolling Stone expose of the meat industry. I myself had come to the same resolve as a result of reading the same article with its accompanying film.
Like Myers and a gazillion other anxious liberals, I had been cutting back on meat consumption while wrestling with the moral implications of all my consumer choices. Over the past couple of years, I have experimented with meat-free recipes and meat substitutes. I have been buying organic milk and cage-free eggs even though it's hard, given my budget, to resist the incredibly cheap alternatives. I've read The Omnivore's Dilemma and Animal Liberation and watched scores of documentaries on the subject.
I'm not sure why that particular article has motivated me to finally commit myself, if not fully to veganism, but at least to no longer eating or wearing the flesh of mammals. And this motivation is not based on particular concerns for my own health, but because this is one fairly easy thing I can do to reduce the suffering of sentient beings.
A couple of years ago I watched a documentary, the name of which I cannot remember, which was so graphic and horrifying in its depiction of the fate of animals used in research labs that I immediately dashed off a check to PETA for $200 (a significant sum for me). Unfortunately, within a few days I had cause to bitterly regret my impulsive largesse, as PETA came forward with its notorious "Save the Whales" campaign.
The purpose of these billboards was to "fat shame" women into becoming vegans by persuading them that vegans are never fat. This is patently untrue. I've met a number of chubby observant Hindus, for example. It's perfectly possible to consume enough calories to get fat with an abundance of nuts and grains, and one of my personal concerns about giving up animal flesh is that I find when I don't get plenty of protein, my "sweet tooth" takes over.
Aside from being utter twaddle, the PETA campaign's chief objective was to humiliate fat women. The billboards were erected near beaches in Florida and California: at least one woman commented that seeing it had caused her to cancel a planned outing to the ocean with her kids, which is terribly sad. But that is what "fat shaming" does. It effectively discourages fat people from participating in social activities most likely to promote their physical and psychological health. Ask any fat woman how she is received when she enters an athletic club (hell, ask me!): she is either given the "stink eye" by customers who find her appearance offensive, or she is condescended to in the most demeaning manner. That's why people who justify "fat shaming" by claiming "concern" for others' "health" are pernicious liars, hypocrites of the worst sort.
For me, the humiliation of PETA's "Save the Whales" campaign was double, for I realized I had just thrown a wad of hard-earned cash at an outfit that had absolutely no respect for me. In other words, I had unwittingly paid for my own humiliation.
PETA soon dismantled the campaign and apologized, but the damage to my end was done. I had learned to dislike PETA, a disdain that persists to this day. I couldn't get my money back, but I did insist they drop me from their membership roll. And although I'm a fan of Joan Jett and Chrissie Hynde, my admiration for them has been, frankly, tainted by their endorsement of PETA. I try not to look at PETA ads in magazines. When I can't avoid seeing one, I'm always nauseated by their blatant objectification of women's bodies.
I'm not surprised that PETA has started a new campaign that is every bit as stupid and offensive, with assertions that are not only medically unproven, but are, in fact, simply another heaping helping of "fat shaming" with a light pseudo-scientific dressing. And that is a shame because promoting the ethical treatment of animals is important for many valid reasons. I am fairly certain that no fat person has been coerced into turning "vegan" because some vain-glorious, celebrity-studded ad campaign "shamed" her into it.
I give small amounts of money as I am able to local animal rescue and shelter organizations where I can witness firsthand the positive results of my charity. Now that I've learned the Humane Society is really trying to help shine a spotlight on abuses in factory farming, I'm going to shoot them some support too.
When will PETA learn that they are turning off more people than they are winning? I'm beginning to think that PETA is just about promoting PETA...