Come on Al, Steak or the Earth?

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Come on Al, Steak or the Earth?

By Ingrid Newkirk, President of PETA, on HuffingtonPost.com
November 2009

One might ask who was using whom when some 30,000 people came to PETA.org after the show, and more than 9,000 of them stayed to watch Alec Baldwin narrating Meat Your Meat.

Like the Greek god Typhon, who threatened heaven with his scorched breath, Glenn Beck creates a firestorm whenever he opens his mouth. The heavens shook and the gods fled when Typhon appeared on that giant TV screen of old -- the sky -- and, now as then, guilt by association is the order of the day. That was clear when I appeared on Glenn Beck's show this week to argue that Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore -- who most of us know as the man who wants us to change our light bulbs and save up to buy a Prius -- is obliged to go vegetarian. (And judging by the results of a Los Angeles Times poll this week, it would seem that if he fails to kick his meat habit in the noble cause of saving the Earth, the scorn he felt when driving a Lincoln Town Car will look like small potatoes indeed.)

Soon after appearing on Beck's show, I found out that it wasn't only George W. Bush and that Darth Vader-like hunter Dick Cheney who were hell-bent on destroying our right to say what we want to say, where and when we want to say it. Liberal blogs screamed over my "stupidity," "gall," and "balls" in appearing on FOX and, sin of sins, on that show. Didn't I realize I was "used"? One might ask who was using whom when some 30,000 people came to PETA.org after the show, and more than 9,000 of them stayed to watch Alec Baldwin's video "Meat Your Meat."

Didn't I know that Al Gore is a saint, off-limits and that PETA is obliged to support anything the left does, right or wrong? This very gripe is usually offered up by the right to lambaste its opponents. At least both sides agree on something.

PETA's history contradicts the theory that either side is always correct. The fact is, for the last 30 years, we have been an equal opportunity critic, scrutinizing the actions of everyone from President Reagan to President Obama. Wear a fur hat or buy a purebred dog and we will say what we need to say -- on behalf of the foxes in steel traps with fear in their hearts or the dogs sitting at the pound with hope in their eyes. Some days, that means we lose more members than we gain, but we are not hobbyists or begging to be cuddled, so we do not back away from criticizing cruelty no matter who wields the cudgel or, in this case, the steak knife.

For those who think PETA started out with a battering ram, please know that we have long tried privately to cajole, convince and even cook for Mr. Gore. We've offered to send him a famous chef with impeccable credentials and a mouthwatering culinary repertoire, provide him with nutrition experts and praise him mightily for dipping his toe into it all by taking PETA's 30-day "veg pledge." We have pointed out that the United Nations, the Worldwatch Institute and even his own Live Earth agree that going vegetarian is the most effective step that anyone can take to combat climate change.

That's why he has only himself to blame for the blows dealt him this week from the BBC's Mr. Paxman, ABC's Ms. Sawyer and other commentators. Yes, he's the son of a Black Angus rancher. My father climbed mountains and went out in to the ocean in small boats during storms, but I'm not following suit. He protests that eating meat is a "personal choice" and tries to excuse his penchant for a daily steak (sometimes two, we hear from a reliable source) because he finds it "too hard" to "give up" meat? Driving a Hummer for the hell of it is a personal choice, and how hard can it be to go vegetarian when this week's New York Times list of best-selling hardback advice books shows chef Tal Ronnen's The Conscious Cook sitting pretty at number three and Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Diet at number five? Both are vegan -- not just vegetarian -- cookbooks that I dare anyone to open without drooling. Last week, Chipotle at Dupont Circle in Washington test-marketed a Gardein vegan "chicken" burrito. It sold out almost instantly, and an emergency supply of these delicious little medallions of soy protein had to be dispatched to meet demand.

Take a look at these few facts among the many: A 2006 United Nations report concluded that the meat industry produces about 40 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than all the world's transportation systems -- that's all the cars, trucks, SUVs, planes and ships in the world combined; Worldwatch estimates that filthy factory farms, transport and all the related parts of putting the nugget into the bucket and the burger into the bun account for 51 per cent of all greenhouse-gas emissions; and that animal-based agriculture is responsible for deforestation, river contamination and 130 times more manure than the whole human population produces.

However, considering that "water wars" are widely believed to be the ones we'll wage in the future, we have asked Mr. Gore to consider one other fact: It takes 2,400 gallons of water to bring 1 pound of flesh to the table. The threat from draining the water from our own aquifers to feed "livestock" should be chillingly familiar to those who have witnessed the crises and bloodshed that spring from depletions of gas and oil. That tidbit alone should be enough to compel Mr. Gore to give a vegetarian diet a whirl. As leading climate change expert Lord Stern told The London Times last week, "Meat is a wasteful use of water. ... It puts enormous pressure on the world's resources."

Of course, Mr. Gore isn't the only public figure who should wave the steak plate away. Appendicitis is related to high meat consumption, and this week, Mr. Beck was rushed to the hospital to have his appendix removed. I'm sure there are many people who wish the hospital had taken his vocal cords along with it, but although Mr. Beck disagrees with almost everything PETA stands for, our position is that "we may not agree with what you say, but ..." we'll gladly come on your show to defend our right to hold our own views.