The leadership of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—and the true believers who naively serve as its operatives—has always embraced a slew of utterly foolish ideas, like encouraging college kids to swill beer, rather than drink milk, or pretending that Jesus was some diehard vegan who apparently didn’t object to the concept of a sacrificial lamb—as long as his followers substituted tofu, or whatever veggie alternative the Israelites had 2,000 years ago, instead of the animal’s flesh.
That’s not to say that the larger animal activist community, upon which PETA constantly tries to piggyback, doesn’t have some legitimate issues, such as curbing the backyard breeding of lions and tigers (hardly suitable pets) or banning organized fight-to-the-death “sporting events” between roosters and dogs bred specifically for that purpose.
I even have some affinity for such PETA-led campaigns as stopping marine mammal theme parks from capturing wild orcas to sustain their entertainment acts. It’s tough to make the case that such activities are somehow educational for the families paying big bucks to watch the tricks the killer whales and dolphins are trained to perform.
Of course, PETA originally made its bones with strident opposition to animal agriculture and its Meat is Murder mantra is still the centerpiece of its fund-raising campaigns. Because let’s face it: PETA is in the business of staying in business, and railing against animal abuse is a proven money-maker. But there is no end point to its alleged “reform” agenda, other than raising money so that they can launch more campaigns to raise even more money.
The problem is the traction they—and many far more legitimate groups allied to the “cause”—sometimes generate, despite their whacky stance on the issues.
The weirder the better
But that’s the good news: For every outside-the-box idea PETA dreams up, they end up alienating as many people as they inspire. So I would argue that the more they push the envelope of common sense, the better it is for those engaged in raising livestock and producing animal food products, who are also trying to win consumer hearts and minds.
For example: PETA wants to ascribe to all animals distinct human qualities. But the more they push the idea that every species in the animal kingdom is on an equal footing with Homo sapiens, the more their credibility shrinks like a cheap t-shirt left in the dryer too long.
A recent story illustrates the point. Seems that some fish were killed in a traffic accident in Irvine, Calif., according to a story in the Orange County Register newspaper, and PETA wants a memorial erected to honor their deaths.
You read that right. A PETA supporter living in Irvine requested that the city install a sign to memorialize the hundreds of fish being taken to the Irvine Ranch Market that were killed last month when a tractor-trailer truck carrying 1,600 pounds of saltwater bass and several tanks of pure oxygen crashed into two other vehicles. (The oxygen was used to keep the fish alive as they were being taken to market).
In her letter, Dina Kourda, writing on behalf of PETA, asked the city’s street maintenance superintendent to place the sign at the site of the crash at the corner of Walnut and Yale Aves in Irvine. “Although such signs are traditionally reserved for human fatalities,” the letter stated, “I hope you’ll make an exception because of the enormous suffering involved in this case.”
The proposed sign would read: “In memory of hundreds of fish who suffered and died at this spot.”
According to Kourda’s letter, the idea was to remind truck drivers of their responsibility to the animals who are “hauled to their deaths every day.”
The letter also explained that fish are people, too.
“Research tells us that fish use tools, tell time, sing, and have impressive long-term memories and complex social structures,” Kourda’s letter read. “Yet fish used for food are routinely crushed, impaled, cut open, and gutted—all while still conscious.”
I guess the millions of mice, moles, gophers and other rodents routinely “crushed, impaled and cut open” by tractors and plows preparing farm fields for planting the soybeans and cereal grains on which we’re supposed to subsist don’t count—at least not as much as singing, tool-making, time-telling fish apparently do.
Of course, PETA knows that Irvine or any other city’s not about to spend money on a sign memorializing some sea bass that got spilled onto the highway. Their motive is “raising awareness.”
Such stunts help do exactly that: Make people aware of how utterly ridiculous their take on the animal kingdom really is.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.