Ingrid Newkirk, Making Kind Choices
Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA
The day I received Ingrid Newkirk’s book, Making Kind Choices, was the day I brought my puppy to the vet and learned she was deathly ill. The timing was really perfect- I was trying to save the dogs life, and through this book I started learning how I can do more than save one animal.
I never knew much about PETA or exactly what the group stood for. I had an image in my mind about radical zealots holding signs and throwing paint and sending evil messages to fur lovers like Jennifer Lopez. But this book helped me view People for Ethical Treatment of Animals in a new light. Ingrid’s writing is thoughtful and kind, her words are gentle and Making Kind Choices was very inspiring to me, hopefully it will be for you too.
I urge you to pick up the book or visit the Peta website and learn how to make easy changes in your life to help make the world a better place for our generation and the next. A big Thank You to Ingrid for taking the time to answer my questions.
PETA has a bit of a reputation as being a radical organization: images of outraged people tossing cans of red paint onto fur coats come to mind. What would you like to say to the people who think PETA is extreme?
I would say look at our website, Peta and you'll see what we really do, think, and say. It's all about promoting kindness and finding alternatives to every cruel act. We do fun, sexy, gimmicky things like "I'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur" and dress up as animals and so on, but it is an urban myth that we throw paint on people. We never have.
This myth got a big boost when Joan Rivers had paint sprayed or thrown on her coat on a NY street and went on national shows saying "It was those Peta people." But we're good friends with Joan now (her daughter posed last year for our Naked series, and Joan was proudly at the unveiling of the poster) and she understands. The closest thing we've come to that, and it's a big stretch, was when one of our people jumped on the runway of a fashion show (something we routinely do) and held up his own paint covered red hands with the sign, "There's blood on your hands for killing animals." We urge people never, ever to let anyone in fur pass by, but that can mean ever-so-politely handing them one of our "Meet Your Fur Coat's Original Owner" cards or just saying "Please don't wear animal skins."
How do you choose which celebrities to feature in your anti-fur ads? I'm not a celebrity but I would rather wrap my body in cotton any day than drape myself in mink or wear chinchilla eyelashes.
We've featured such a range of celebrities (many of whom you can see on furisdead.com) from stars like Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger to soap opera actors, young musicians, models, drag queens, singers, you-name-'em. Most people are appalled by the cruelty that goes into fur, the theft of 25-100 animals' very lives for a bit of clothing that makes you look like a caveperson and shows you have no heart.
Some celebs contact us (that's how we got Pam Anderson), others we approach. Many are fantastic, from Bea Arthur and Rue McClanahan (who have been with us from the start, helping with everything from flood rescue to fur) to Jacquin Phoenix (who insisted on non-leather cowboy boots for his latest film about Johnny Cash); I love them for sticking up for animals.
What is one task people can do every day to help make the world a cleaner and more friendly place? Maybe if we break down the big goal of trying to save the environment/animals into bite sized pieces, we can make a difference.
You are asking one of the world's most longwinded women for ONE thing? There are so many, and they fit every lifestyle. Perhaps the most important is something everyone can do, because everyone eats. If you are not already vegan or vegetarian, remember that non-violence begins with how what you eat got onto the plate, that most of us couldn't stand for one minute being in a slaughterhouse without a blindfold, a nose plug and ear muffs, that intensive animal farming is not only cruel but pollutes our waterways with the enormous amount of waste run off; that meat production is far more energy intensive than raising fruits and veggies and grains, and that your arteries will thank you if you choose to make even one main meal vegan. We have the resources, the cookbooks, the free recipes, the free vegetarian starter kit for you.
Giving up meat is a difficult goal, but one I'm willing to try. What would you say to someone who is taking the first steps to being a vegetarian?
It's easy as pie if you keep your motivator (cruelty, environment, health) firmly set in your mind at the start, and then, later, you won't want to go back. You'll look at meat with the disgust now reserved for road kill!
It's hard to imagine, but the average person probably only cooks about 10 different meals: i.e. pasta on Mondays, chicken patties on Tuesdays, and so on. So, get your hands on a veg cookbook or the free recipes in the Vegetarian Starter Kit (download from petaeats.org or goveg.com or peta.org) and find ONE recipe or TWO, that you like. And try the tips like buying soy sausage crumbles from your supermarket freezer case to substitute in a recipe that calls for ground meat. Switch to ice-cold SILK (soy milk) instead of milk. Some things you'll find delicious instantly, some you'll hate, as with any new cuisine, but if it's marginal, remember taste buds take about three weeks to adjust. Remember going from whole milk to skim?
I want to mention the www.sharetheworld website. I just ordered my own kit and am really excited to bring the packet to my local school and share with the kids. How else can we get children involved in a gentle and encouraging way- without scaring anyone in the process-?
Peta has a wonderful kids (8-13) magazine called GRRR! which is free for the asking. We have a kind teachers network to exchange lesson plans, free alternatives to dissection (including a fun video about how to spare frogs and cats, narrated by Alicia Silverstone), and we have a book I wrote called "Kids Can Save the Animals" available on petamall. Also, young 'uns should look at petakids.com and rebellious teens can go to peta2.org.
I was stunned to read how gelatin is made using skin, tendons, ligaments, from cows and pigs. Also shocking was the other products which contain animal parts (cosmetics, foods, vitamins). What is the most upsetting thing you have learned since being involved with Peta?
Oh, that's difficult, because when I started, I didn't realize that the cruel veal industry is a direct result of the milk business. That the little calf is torn away from his loving mother at just one day or a few hours or his birth to be stuck in a dark crate, not because we want veal, but because we want to steal the milk Nature intended for him and sell it in the form of "cheese on everything," milk, ice cream and so on. But, learning about how vicious lab workers can be to those in their charge, running monkey and mice Abu Ghraibs really, was a real eye-opener too and I was so relieved to realize there are health charities like Easter Seals I can give to that don't torture animals; cosmetics and household products I can buy that aren't tested in animals' eyes.
Yes, I want to make changes and get involved with Peta, at the same time I feel like a hypocrite because I still have chicken in my freezer and leather shoes in my closet. I wonder if others feel the same way..where do we start? And what can I, as one person, do to help?
I always say "No one is the Buddha, not even the Buddha was the Buddha!" meaning that we are all learning and changing. Every act of kindness, every step in the right direction is fabulous. You may help one homeless person but indulge in something extravagant for yourself, that doesn't mean you shouldn't have helped at all! Keep learning, keep walking, keep changing, help as much as you can. My book, which you can borrow or buy, "Making Kind Choices" offers hundreds of easy ways to help, from choosing a coffee from a company that doesn't poison birds and helps workers to how to donate your outdated reading glasses and books, to learning why not to buy a purebred dog from a breeder or pet shop.
What would you like to see happen within the next year?
More and more and more people letting their hearts and minds speak to them about why we must not tolerate injustice in any form, why we must reject violence in all forms, seeing how complete we become when we live by our principles.