PETA vs. 'Nutcracker' Kids
Telling someone you're a vegan tends to have precisely one effect: Your listener will immediately turn defensive. If the topic comes up over a meal, say at a restaurant, a pall descends, as if you'd just broken it to someone who had her heart set on a bottle of wine that you don't drink. Whether you're a vegan or a teetotaler, people often assume that your decision to opt out is an indictment of everyone who doesn't do the same.
That's one of the reasons I tend not to mention, unless I have to, that I'm a vegan -- have been for 20 years. All of my credentials are in order: soy yogurt in the fridge, lentil soup on the stove, non-leather boots on my feet, vegan makeup on my face, requisite cat standing by. (Well, technically, he's sleeping.) I'm a vegan for ethical reasons, but that choice is mine. I'll talk about it if asked, but I don't proselytize. It only alienates people.
So why bring it up now, given that no one is asking? Because People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals -- which by all rights should be one of my favorite organizations -- is driving me batty, again. PETA is as vegan as can be, but it's also a case of arrested development: a perpetually furious adolescent that sees no damage to its cause in making little kids cry or ruining families' holiday outing. Which is exactly what's going to happen Saturday if, as The Philadelphia Inquirer reports, members hand out anti-fur leaflets and stickers to children on their way to see the Pennsylvania Ballet's "Nutcracker" at the Academy of Music:
Why kids? "Children have a natural affinity for animals," says PETA's Dan Mathews in a statement. "Once they learn how animals are killed to make jackets, boots, and bags, we expect that they'll be reaching for stickers before you can say 'Sugar Plum Fairy.' "
That's just plain mean. Yes, kids have an affinity for animals, and young people are more likely to go vegetarian for ethical reasons than are their elders. But is there, perhaps, a better, kinder time to try to teach children about the connection between animals, leather and fur? Not according to PETA, which apparently staged a similar event last Saturday at the Detroit Opera House. WDIV, that city's NBC affiliate, explained: "PETA feels this is an outlet for kids to 'stick it' to their parents or anyone else they know who wear animal skins or fur."
There's the holiday spirit: Encourage children to stick it to Mom, Dad, Grandma, Uncle Stephen -- whoever was evil enough to take them to the ballet. And if the little ones should notice the leather on their own feet and shed their shoes in a snowbank? Too bad about their frostbitten toes, but it couldn't be helped.
Especially because, in keeping with its black-and-white adolescent outrage, PETA views ballet and opera audiences as uniquely deserving of aggressive tactics. In a leafleting alert, it declaims:
With the holiday season upon us, the temperatures are dropping, and cold-hearted fur hags everywhere are coming out in full force. No matter where you reside, you can be sure that a local fur hag is dusting off an animal carcass disguised as a coat, hat, or scarf for a night out at the ballet or opera.
What better place to educate the public about the cruelty of the fur industry than at a classic holiday ballet, such as The Nutcracker, where fur-wearers are sure to congregate and show off their expensive cadavers?
The irony, for me, is that I agree with PETA about cruelty to animals, and about the necessity of much of its work. But there are effective ways and self-defeating ways of getting a message across. This little campaign is one of its nastier efforts.