With its boldest gambit yet — offering $1 million to the person who can create “commercially viable” fake meat — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) continues to push boundaries in its fight for animal rights.
Dan Mathews, PETA’s senior VP, created the advocacy group’s “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” campaign, which enlisted celebs and average Joes to pose nude. He also has a book to promote, Committed: A Rabble-Rouser’s Memoir (Atria, 2007), and took some related questions as part of an April 18 visit to Books On the Square in Providence. Excerpts follow.
Who do you consider your worst enemy in the fight for animal rights?
I would say KFC is the worst — they still boil birds alive and have de-feathering tanks. They snap the birds’ legs and wings. It’s stuff that they can do away with. They can update their policies. We’ve put pressure on McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC. It’s even worse than a David and Goliath fight, though; even one of them can outspend us. Unless we’re as ruthless as our enemies, we don’t stand a chance.
What do you say to people who may not like factory-farming, but who still eat cheeseburgers?
From the time we’re born, there’s an onslaught of images about how we should eat this, eat that, super size this. We have these images, encouraging us to be gluttons. That’s why PETA is so obnox-ious, creating these vegetarian campaigns competing with the fast-food chains.
Not a lot of people want to watch the blood and gore, so we have made our campaigns more appealing . . . we have our annual sexiest vegetarian poll. We do more provocative things. We use sex to sell the issue, such as Pamela Anderson posing in a lettuce bikini.
Are all animals created equal, or do you have a preference?
To me, all animals are equal in the same way that all people are equal. When I encounter a human or an animal, I’m struck by the similarities, rather than the differences. I think they’re all individuals. The fact that I’m gay, I always felt like a big outsider. Animals are the biggest outsiders.
Who was your most difficult convert?
I would have to say Kid Rock. I’m pretty close with Pamela Anderson — I’m often her escort. He was a little bit awkward when he first met. But soon we realized that we both loved Jim Beam, and we both love Southern rock, and we’re both rebellious in our own ways. We had so much in common. It caused him to really reflect. He stopped hunting and wearing fur. When they split, he started wearing the furs again. But I still have faith that he’ll come around.