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Paging PETA: Vegetarianism is Not the New Weight-Loss Secret

Posted by on April 10 2009 in Rants & Raves, Red Meat, Veggie

Dear PETA,

You recently announced the winners of your “Sexiest Vegetarians Next Door” contest.  Now, PETA I know you’ve gotten into trouble with folks before for sexing up vegetarianism while promoting the dominant body paradigm (naked pics of Pam Anderson pervade PETA propaganda, but for some reason you PETA folks haven’t asked  supporter Forest Whitaker to take any nudey photos).

As a vegetarian I’m more than a little peeved by the fact that PETA is trying to hype vegetarianism as a weight-loss or healthy diet trend (and it’s not because I didn’t make your sexiest vegetarians list, though I am a little hurt you didn’t think of me).  Vegetarianism can be healthy and it can be unhealthy, vegetarians can be obese and skinny and everything in between. I know a ton of vegetarians who only eat french fries and fake chicken nuggets.  Vegetarianism is not necessarily the road to health or weight-management and I wish you PETA folks would stop advertising it as such.

Take this year’s female winner, blond bombshell Amber of Minnesota. PETA’s website explains:

“Amber, a Minnesota native, decided to go vegetarian after reading the book Skinny Bitch and doing research on making the switch, and she’s thrilled with the results!”

Woo frackin hoo!  It takes far more than not eating meat to look that svelt in a bikini, lemme tell you!

As for your male sexiest vegetarian, Monty (um, does he have a sock stuffed into those porn-star briefs or is he almost giving us the full Monty?) he similarly got on the vegetarian caravan for “health” reasons:

“Monty, 33, initially switched to a vegetarian diet for health reasons, but after he learned how factory farming affects animals and the environment, his convictions were reinforced, and he recently went vegan!”

Anyway, I find the whole “sexy” campaign pretty annoying.  I’ve been a veggie since I was 10, and as a biologist’s daughter, I too believe in the ethical treatment of the critters.  I also firmly believe in the humane and ethical treatment of the human animal.

Treat us all with some respect.
Be ethical and straight forward in your ads and your campaigns.
Tell people the real reason why you want them to be vegetarians, PETA.

You know it’s not because you want everyone in America to have 2% body fat.

Thanks,

Maids

P.S. I’m not going into detail about the weird racial undertones of that Monty shot, but needless to say, I did not like it one bit.  Way to play up the image of the black male as a wild hyper-sexual animal who needs to be caged.

P.P.S. People don’t have to be nearly nude to be sexy.

Pic: PETA

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22 Responses leave one →
  1. April 10, 2009

    Does PETA really have a choice in getting more veg. people on the veg. bandwagon? I suppose its easier to coax people into going veg. through shameless promotion of skinny models rather than talking about the more important reasons of why you should go veg. Don’t get me wrong…I agree w/ what you’re saying but I hope people aren’t going veg just because they want to look skinny b/c you’re right, they’re going to be in for a surprise.

    Nice writeup!

  2. April 10, 2009

    Great post! And heavens to betsy that has to be GORE-TEX sock.

  3. April 10, 2009

    Hear hear!!!

    Yes, I believe that is a sock.

    The book “Skinny Bitch” pisses me off too. I read the excerpt that is available through Amazon’s “search inside” feature and right off the bat they ban coffee and beer. Two of my favorite things!

    Anyway, I’m in agreement on the bigger point here: there are a lot of good reasons to go vegetarian, but PETA has honed in on possibly the worst reason.

  4. westcoast permalink
    April 10, 2009

    Your argument lost me a little. I believe that PETA’s campaigns are always a little over the top (today’s news is that they have asked the Pet Shop Boys to change their name — or a few weeks ago the news that fish should be called “sea kittens” (as if we really treat kittens as a whole that well)). Perhaps PETA is just trying to say to those who think vegetarians are weird, pale, fragile beings that vegetarians can actually be hot and they aren’t all weird. Sometimes it takes campaigns like this to affect the closed-minded.

  5. La Morgan permalink
    April 10, 2009

    Great post, Maids – that campaign is super irritating and to me screams “hyper-privileged and self-obsessed L.A. mindset.” Trying to get people to sign onto an ethical and political platform regarding humane animal treatment by appealing to their vanity, insecurities & self-obsession is not the way to build a lasting commitment or meaningful activism.

    Then again, most political campaigns take similar approaches, focusing on the individual’s self-interest and insecurities rather than the well-being of a wider community, so perhaps PETA is just trying to play in the big leagues.

  6. Maids permalink*
    April 10, 2009

    @westcoast – IDK, Amber might not be a weird gal (though the idea of deciding to be a veg after reading skinny bitch strikes me as a wee bit bizarre), but she epitomizes the “pale” and “fragile” being thing, donchathink?
    ;-)

  7. Liza permalink*
    April 10, 2009

    Love the post… and as someone who has been doing her best to be vegetarian and vegan at times, it does NOT do anything to effect your weight! I’m exactly the same size as I was when I started back in July :) I do believe choosing to be vegetarian should be more about the ethical treatment of animals and the damage unethical livestock practices have on the environment. BUT the damage these practices cause to animals, the earth and human health (in terms of not ingesting chemicals) needs to be stopped, and the most powerful way to stop the damage is if the demand for meat goes down, so I say anyway to make that happen is ok.

  8. Alex permalink
    April 10, 2009

    Actually, in a little tangent, I was just reading at editorial in American Family Physician saying that a vegetarian diet does have quantifiable health benefits, on average. Apparently vegetarians do have lower incidence of heart disease and possibly cancer. And this is controlling for factors like age, sex and smoking. So it seems that there are some health benefits for us veggies, probably as long as you don’t replace all meat with cake. And I personally think that’s as good a reason as any to be vegetarian…not to look like these guys, because that’s obviously ridiculous, but to get your risk of heart disease down.

  9. April 10, 2009

    If vegetarianism is supposed to make you thin, then why am I heavier now than I was when I ate meat?

  10. April 10, 2009

    PS – I didn’t substitute every meal with cake, either, so we can rule out that possibility. ;)

  11. Jiggle Billy permalink
    April 10, 2009

    As a PETA employee, I should preface this with an “I’m not getting paid to write this, and I’m probably not representing the mission of this campaign well.” That said, I’m personally in disagreement and am speaking on behalf of myself. I’m not the daughter of a biologist; I am a biologist.

    The sexy campaign doesn’t specify a promoted body image in any detail greater than “sexy,” nor is PETA an exercise and fitness advocacy group. Don’t confuse a vote-driven contest’s winners with its agenda, especially after the results are in. It’s probably more apt to do so during the voting period. Maybe cast a vote, or even participate as a contestant.

    Furthermore, I think you’ve mischaracterized what you’ve read. Don’t be blinded by your attention to the issue of body image paradigms. As important as that is, your focus on that topic has led you to skim over some very valid reasons these two people cite (that have nothing to do with body image) to support their vegetarian diet: carbon emissions and environmental impact (which is a huge one); factory farming ethics; animal breeding.

    Superficially, every PETA campaign has one mission, and it’s summarized by co-founder Ingrid Newkirk’s laboriously repeated quote, which I paraphrase: PETA is a media whore. Everything it does publicly aims to do just that, catch the attention of the public. For the blog careerists, as it was for the paparazzi before them, this frequently takes bikinis and fake blood. It isn’t often that the internet catches fire with, “Ooh, did you read that paper the FDA just put out that admits milk isn’t a good source of calcium?” But dress a dude up in a Speedo and show off his ginormous piece: boom, millions of web hits for vegetarian websites.

    Furthermore, someone who eats French fries and fake nuggets is more appropriately labeled “malnourished” than “vegetarian.” If refined vegetable oil and soy protein isolate are a considerable component of your diet, you’re what nutritionists call an “industrialized eater.” You, my friend, are not a vegetarian.

    I congratulate you on your approach to this, and for calling for PETA to be more responsible (not to mention your own long-time vegetarianism). I’m sending your post to the people in my division, and I’ll talk to the communications people who worked on this campaign—hopefully their next installation will address your complaints. I will add, however, that PETA does its part for health and nutrition, and has an impressive informational website about dietary transition (http://www.goveg.com/).

    When it comes to sexy, though, the people have spoken. These two skinny, kinda dumb vegetarian bitches are effing sexy. Ain’t no paradigm like the honest, gut-spoken truth.

  12. Maids permalink*
    April 10, 2009

    Dear Jiggle Billy,
    Thanks for your response. ;-) I mentioned being a biologist’s daughter not to lend credibility to my claim that vegetarianism doesn’t make a person skinny, but rather as an explanation of the source of my early and intense love of the critters.
    I do appreciate the dialogue, but I have to emphasize that I was really really saddened by the image on the right. The barbed wire, the chain link fence, the institutional prison-like surroundings and the beefy over-sexualized black man…..
    I’m sad that PETA feels the need to rely on such a tired trope in order to get media attention. I think it degrades an important message and may in fact offend those who would be otherwise sympathetic to some of PETA’s ideas.

  13. Jiggle Billy permalink
    April 10, 2009

    Dear Maids,

    I understand your point, but I hope you would admit that the critique is bidirectional. You say that the image preys on an inappropriate cultural fascination with the institutional prison-like surroundings and the beefy sexualized black man. Equally valid is that the image succeeds because of a current cultural fascination with urban grit and a totally hot muscular dude. Deconstruction only works if you sum all possible interpretations, including the factual ones: if it looks institutional, so does all of LA and the poor fenced-in LA River against which this image is set. The model, then, is not caged, and is rather outside of the cage, on a sidewalk bridge used by thousands of people each day. If it’s a trope instead of just a sexy picture, it’s a darn good one, recognizable to Angelinos as, “zomg, this guy was posing in my neighborhood.”

    I apologize if I’m not weighing the argument with the same criteria, but I can sum up my approach in two brief statements.

    PETA agitates for press. That’s undisputable. Showing video to entering patrons of KFC’s farm workers engaged in absurd violence against sick, injured chickens is offensive to many, but honest and informative.

    Mr. Sexy Vegetarian loved his photo shoot and is a really nice, really fit vegetarian guy who voluntarily entered this competition.

  14. Molly permalink
    April 11, 2009

    i’m with you, maids. thanks for saying something.

  15. April 11, 2009

    Thank you, Maids, for posting about this.

    I’ve been alienated by PETA’s campaigns and extremely questionable ethics for as long as I’ve been veg (8 years vegetarian before going vegan 6 years ago; that is, quite a while!). I tend to just ignore whatever kind of of shallow attention grabs they put out there, but the yearly voting on the world’s “sexiest vegetarians,” now with the new “girl/boy next door” category to add to the festivities, always gets me down. The lettuce leaf bikini girls are bad enough, but now, every vegetarian in the world is, whether we like it or not, in the running for one big hot-or-not game once a year, and while it’s not new, I’m feeling extra sick of it this year.

    If these kinds of “activist” actions are the best the vegetarian movement can do to educate and recruit people, we’re pretty well fucked. I like to believe that humanity is capable of better, but PETA lets me down every time.

  16. April 21, 2009

    I just saw Alicia Mayer’s new vegetarian PSAs on PETAAsiaPacific.com! I’m a big fan of hers and I’m happy to see she’s speaking out for animals. You can see her sexy new ads HERE. There’s even a video of behind-the-scenes footage from the PETA photo shoot! Alicia is apparently longtime vegetarian, who went made the switch in diet because of the horrific conditions on factory farms where animals are raised for food. Who knew!

    I’ve always been a huge fan of Diether Ocampo, but I like him even more now that he’s spoken out against zoos! I just stumbled across THIS FEATURE on PETAAsiaPacific.com which has a hot new ad featuring Diether painted like a zebra, and a really cool video that has behind-the-scenes footage of the PETA photo shoot! So awesome!

  17. Angeline permalink
    April 30, 2009

    Word, Jordan. PETA makes me feel bad for being a vegetarian, and I cringe when people associate me with them.

    It’s hugely disappointing that PETA simply shrugs off criticisms of its sexist, racist campaigns in exactly the way Jiggle Billy does above–Any media is good media.

    What a despicable organisation.

  18. cyan permalink
    May 1, 2009

    i think PETA is tailoring their ads to an american/western audience of *potential* vegetarians, who would generally only adopt a vegetarian diet for the health benefits, rather than religious or philosophical reasons. i’m speaking generally, here: I know there are plenty of spiritual and philosophical veggies out there. But think about it: there’s little in christian thought or history to relate to a veggie approach, and people who are culturally grounded in christian background (even if they don’t go to church) won’t easily relate to religious reasons for not eating meat. several 19-20c christian health movements did adopt vegetarianism, but they were considered somewhat offbeat (ie Kellog, et al). so the message for dietary change would have to be rooted in something else that a broad audience can relate to. i find PETA mostly obnoxious and sensationalist, but in linking veggie diet to health and fitness, they are simply following a train of thought that already exists in US.

    big deal.

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