Michael Tobias (MT) What is the most pressing problem that animal rights groups like PETA face today?
Ingrid Newkirk: (IN) That’s a bit like asking which shoes pinch the most. It’s got to be what people eat, simply because, while not everyone wears fur or experiments on animals, everyone eats. That means a mind-boggling number of animals suffer for the palate. And the cruelty isn’t just in daft and cruel killings. It’s the casual cruelty of the lunchtime sandwich or the evening meal. This is not to say that dietary habits aren’t changing. Putting aside the New Jersey woman who is vying to be the fattest person on the planet, we see cookbooks like Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet and programs like Dr. Neal Barnard’s 21- Day Weight Loss Kick Start become bestsellers right out of the gate. But, in America alone, human beings breed, raise, transport, and then slaughter more than 16 billion land animals every 365 days. That doesn’t even count fish and crabs, who aren’t inanimate objects, no matter how hard it may be for us to relate to them.
MT: What one thing would you ban?
IN: Supremacism! That’s like racism and sexism―the idea that others are less than you in intellect or table manners or looks and that therefore that gives you carte blanche to manipulate, use, abuse, and slaughter them as you like. It’s self-serving, ignorant malarkey.
MT: Animal stories are constantly in the news. Which ones do you think have been helpful to PETA, if any?
IN: You’d have to live in a cave to have missed the Michael Vick trial―that has at least put dogfighting, the silent blood sport, on the map in this country. And the story about the chimpanzee who tore a woman’s face off has made some legislators think about a ban on wild animals, who get so frustrated in captivity that they go berserk. When newspapers ran the whistleblower photos of how the circus trains baby elephants with beatings and tie-downs, that woke a lot of people up―so much so that almost 1,000 people showed up in Los Angeles to protest when the beast wagons rolled into town. PETA’s “silly” stunts get ink and air time. Like our beating Michelle Bachmann to the punch by bringing back two dollar a gallon gas first. We paid the extra pump cost and served up Tofurkey sandwiches to motorists, and it allowed us to make the point that you can do more to reduce your carbon footprint by going vegan than you can by driving a hybrid car. Our “sexy” ads get a lot of play, and while people might laugh at them, they also look at them, and they come to PETA.org to watch the sexy videos but go away the wiser for it.
MT: People must ask you “Aren’t there more important causes?”
IN: That’s a sort of “As long as I’m all right, Jack” attitude. When Martin Luther King Jr. protested U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, his followers admonished him and said that he should stay out of it, that it didn’t directly involve civil rights. Dr. King replied, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I don’t subscribe to the idea that we must look after men or whites or Americans or whomever we most closely identify with first, and then and only then can we help others. Our compassion is big enough to let us look beyond the identity of the victim to the injustice and object to that. To me, it is one world, and the non-human animals bear the brunt of oppression and suffering.
Michael Tobias is the President and CEO of the Dancing Star Foundation, a global ecologist, anthropologist, historian, explorer, author and filmmaker.