In a move that should shock absolutely no one, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has launched yet another campaign that, at its core, is based on objectifying human beings. This time, though, the organization isn't posting billboards with naked supermodels on them or staging "protests" that involve nude women in cages.
Instead, it's hosting a "Sexiest Vegan Over 50" contest. Sixty-seven-year-old Boulder chef Ron Pickarski, a classically trained chef who is the founder of Eco-Cuisine Natural Foods and the author of The Classical Vegetarian Cookbook, is one of five male finalists in what's apparently an annual showdown; there are also five female finalists. (Go vote for Pickarski if you feel so inclined — the deadline is Friday.)
I don't mean to rain on Pickarski's sexy parade, truly. But I do want to ask PETA a question: Is it possible to introduce some kind of awareness campaign that doesn't revolve around people's bodies?
I've been bothered about PETA's gimmicks for a long, long time. I was a vegetarian before I started learning about feminism and gender politics (and that was in my freshman year of college — imagine that!). So it's not that I'm indifferent to the plight of animals. But I wonder why PETA is indifferent to the plight of humans?
Smarter people than I, who are more ardent activists, have talked extensively about the link between patriarchy and animal oppression. The Vegan Feminist Network published an extensive (but by no means exhaustive) piece about some of those connections that's a good primer on the subject.
I already know what PETA defenders will say: "Meat-eaters won't pay attention unless you shock them. Naked women are one of the easiest ways to get people's attention. It's worth it to degrade and objectify half our species if it means we will finally free animals from being slaughtered and eaten."
I'm sorry, but that's bullshit.
Here's the message those campaigns are sending: One subset of animals on Planet Earth exists for another subset to ogle and exploit and turn into a product.
Even if you add "for a good cause" to the end of that sentence, only the densest militants would fail to find that sentiment problematic.
I'm not saying that asking a conventionally beautiful woman to sit naked in a cage in a public space is the same thing as killing and eating her. But what I am saying is that the kind of person who thinks nothing of using another person like a product is also the kind of person who thinks nothing of using an animal like a product, too.
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It's 2015. These contests are stupid — they always have been, but now we can admit it to ourselves more readily — and I'd like to believe that the kind of thoughtful person who might otherwise be convinced to switch to or begin transitioning to a plant-based diet would be completely repulsed by PETA's ad campaigns. This kind of tactic might have been considered clever as recently as a decade ago, but this is a rapidly changing world. PETA, though, shows no sign of wanting to join the rest of us in the 21st century.
One more thing: If you have any question left as to whether PETA really gives a rat's ass about people, you should know that the organization teamed up with the notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio to promote meat-free diets in jail. Not because it helps the inmates stay healthy (and, presumably, sexy), of course, but because it saves money.
Either all sentient beings on this planet, including humans, are worthy of respect and dignity and not being killed and eaten — or, you know, raped or harassed or assaulted or thrown in a jail run by Sheriff Arpaio or any of the myriad other terrible things that happen to humans every day — or none of us are.
Which is it, PETA?