Dan Mathews, Committed: A Rabble Rouser's Memoir
Last year I interviewed Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA. She wrote a fantastic book called Making Kind Choices which made me stop and think about setting a good example for my kids. I began learning more about how animals are used and treated. Whenever I'm faced with an ethical animal related dilemma, I stop and think- what would Pam do?
Thanks to PETA I haven’t eaten at KFC in over a year (read more here), and am trying to make better choices, even if that means simply passing up a pair of J. Lo track-pants on clearance at TJ Maxx. She uses fur! How could anyone support that?
Dan Mathews, vice president and mastermind behind some of PETA’s craziest attention grabbing stunts, has written a book called Committed: A Rabble Rousers Memoir. I enjoyed every minute of it. He’s so funny and endearing. The book details his youth and adulthood, becoming an activist, working for People For Ethical Treatment of Animals. I would highly recommend you grab this book and check out PETA's awesome, very informative and friendly site. PETA may have pulled some pretty outrageous stunts but you know what? Those I have met who either work for or are PETA members are so kind and compassionate. They really inspire me.
I was teased so much- being tall, skinny, wearing braces and a headgear- that I still carry around the pain of my elementary/high school torture to this day. Does any of that chubby little boy still reside in the smart, handsome, extremely successful, grown up known as Dan Mathews?
Yes, definitely, the way you are regarded by your peers as a child and young teen is the way you always see yourself in many ways. I may have dropped 40 pounds when I turned vegetarian at 16 and found myself hustling the streets then modeling in Italy at 18 but I always felt like I was about to learn any achievment was some big mistake or a joke.
I still feel like the outsider in everything I do and I feel it's given me an edge, as I don't take anything for granted. I've always seen life as a black comedy and writing has always been an outlet in which I could make some sense of it.Describe yourself in five words...Spontaneous, reliable, fun, irreverent, and of course committed.
PETA has a reputation of being completely overzealous and wild. Are you ever worried that people judge you before actually meeting you?
I learned in grade school never to be too concerned about the way others see you or judge you. I don't blame people for thinking us PETA people are over the edge, because that's how we often need to act to get companies that test on animals or fur designers to take notice and change their ways. They don't do it out of the goodness of their heart, but rather because they are wary of our protests. Sometimes it really pays to have a bad reputation!
Have you gone to a high school reunion? There must be some satisfaction knowing that the boy who was ridiculed and teased is now a force to be reckoned with.
I did go to my 10th high school reunion just for laughs, and found that most of the cute popular kids had grown fat and bald, and they all asked me if I had made some pact with the devil to change my appearance from the punk whale I used to be. I told them it had to do with my diet: seitan, not Satan!
If more people knew how animals were treated, do you think they would stop eating meat or wearing fur, etc? Is the fur wearing public ignorant of how many critters die to make one coat or don't they care?
If slaughterhouses had glass walls most people would go vegetarian, and if fur wearers could see the the pathetic, flapping eyelashes of the raccoons taking their last breath after being skinned alive for a fashion whim they'd switch to fake fur or abandon the Bigfoot look altogether.
I like those who are quirky, upbeat, kind, and have a great sense of humor. What characteristics do you look for in a friend?
I look for people who are fun and honest, I don't care so much about their politics or if they understand animal issues or might be gay like me. I love the thrill of evolving from a contrary influence and seeing others evolve a bit from my influence.
What is it like to hang out with some of the biggest celebrities in the world? Do the rich and famous ever impress you?
I'm impressed not by who someone is but by how they treat people. I've been lucky to become friends with people like Pam Anderson, Pink, Paul McCartney, and Chrissie Hynde, who see their place in the world and want to use whatever power they have to help push society in a better direction. Selfless celebs are hard to find but they are out there.
If we cut down on our meat consumption, how would that have a positive effect on the environment?
Yes, the meat trade is the #1 polluter of the environment. Waste from factory farms contaminates groundwater, thats why places like the Chesapeake Bay, which is said to have looked like the Carribean a hundred years ago, now looks like a wasteland. Chemicals in the tons of chicken, pig and cow crap feed the waterways each year ruin bays, rivers and lakes. Learn more at GoVeg.com.
Let's talk about gay rights. What will it take for all people to be treated with kindness, respect, love? Are you involved with any groups like the Human Rights Campaign or GLAAD?
I became an animal activist as a kid when the bullies who gay bashed me began mutilating the alley cats behind our dumpy apartment house. I have always been involved in gay rights groups, especially GLAAD, which highlights important issues like coming out and being comfortable with yourself, and the way gays are portrayed in the media, which affects all of society. I'm not so into the gay marriage fight or the gays in the military debate. I consider it a privilege not to get married or fight in a war I disagree with. I think the issue of bullying is much more important to address and affects everyone.
When you meet people with opposing views, do you keep an open mind?
Sure, I understand not everyone was raised in the same way and everyone’s experience leads them to respond to issues differently.
What do you want readers to have learned after reading your book?
I hope they learn that you can live your dreams if you follow your heart in life, not just your wallet.
If every person reading his interview would commit to a cause they feel passionate about and encourage friends to do the same, then maybe we take steps towards having a better, cleaner, more peaceful world. What do you most want to see happen within the next few years?
I hope more people see that you can devote time to a cause and not become a complete bore! People need to take more chances and live life for real rather than as a voyeur; toss out your tv, shut off your computer and go out and meet interesting people - they are all around.