Group is so outrageous that its message gets lost in the process.
We owe a debt of gratitude to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. By predictably going outrageously overboard in its anti-meat-eating crusade, PETA shows us clearly where the rhetorical line that we should not cross lies. From having models go naked to protest fur to handing out “Your Mommy kills animals” fliers to children at performances of “The Nutcracker” in 20 cities and putting up anti-milk billboards ridiculing Rudolph Giuliani for his prostate cancer, the organization’s advertising has the knack of getting people talking more about PETA’s tactics than its cause.
Now PETA is taking on the Johnny Appleseed festival in Fort Wayne. It’s a tame campaign given the group’s usual stunts, but it still goes too far in one important way: It tries to take away our choice.
Because John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed, was a dedicated vegetarian, PETA says, the festival that honors him should not serve any meat. No more ham and beans or pork chops for us! Bring on the popcorn and apple juice!
But Appleseed was also a zealous religious missionary who wandered around barefoot and in sackcloth, arguing that it was cruel to cut down a tree and worrying over the fate of grasshoppers. Just how far should we go in emulating his life?
Actually, PETA members have made some good points about diet and nutrition, and it’s hard to argue with them on moral grounds when they talk about the treatment of some confined animals. The group has the same right any other does to get information to us, and we should welcome it as we decide for ourselves what our diets should be.
Where PETA goes too far is in urging another group – those putting on the festival – to take that choice away from us. PETA thinks it knows best, so it doesn’t trust us to make an independent judgment. What does PETA think it is, the federal government?
On its website, PETA justifies its outrageous tactics because it takes “extraordinary” steps to “get the word out” about animal cruelty because “we have learned from experience that the media, sadly, do not consider the terrible facts.” Thus, “we try to make our actions colorful and controversial.”
But too often those actions, which seek to demand our sympathy for animals, display insensitivity against people, and sometimes the ads are downright cruel. That makes PETA the center of attention, and its message gets lost.
The Johnny Appleseed folks could have told PETA to buzz off. Instead, they said they would talk to vendors about having vegan dishes next year so festival patrons would have a choice. Now, that’s class.