Sunday, July 01, 2007

PETA's fat-hating frenzy

The folks over at PETA have a gripe with filmmaker Michael Moore: they want him to make a documentary about animal rights.

That's cool. But the way they go about airing their gripe--very uncool.

The president of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk, wrote an open letter to Moore last week, which was publicized on PETA's blog. In it, Newkirk urges Moore to go vegetarian:

"Although we think that your film could actually help reform America’s sorely inadequate health care system, there’s an elephant in the room, and it is you. With all due respect, no one can help but notice that a weighty health issue is affecting you personally. We’d like to help you fix that. Going vegetarian is an easy and life-saving step that people of all economic backgrounds can take in order to become less reliant on the government’s shoddy healthcare system, and it’s something that you and all Americans can benefit from personally.”

PETA's blog goes on to say, "The idea is that if people didn't make themselves unhealthy in the first place by eating meat products that are known to cause heart disease, high blood pressure, and strokes, the situation would easier for everyone. As Ingrid puts it, 'Yes, America’s health care system needs to be fixed, but personal responsibility is a big part of why people look and feel as ill as they do.'"

Take that, Michael Moore! It's YOUR fault if you get sick—and so is the whole crappy health care system in America!

Hoo-wee! It's great to feel powerful, isn't it?

Note to Ingrid Newkirk: Go have a doughnut or something.


Carrie Arnold said...

That's one "sicko" argument there.

So, America's health system sucks because we eat meat. I'm a little lost as to the exact reasoning of that. Apparently, all of us carnivores are sucking up resources.

Except, wait. I went veggie during part of my ED, and I'm probably using more than average amount of health care services. Hon, hate to break it to ya, but that argument just doesn't hold up.

Someone should do a study on that, on whether or not vegetarianism improves health outcomes.

Kate Harding said...

And Harriet, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't there evidence that some women who are ostensibly recovering from eating disorders go vegetarian to mask that they're not really recovering -- i.e., to have a socialy acceptable excuse for rigidly controlling their food intake and/or refusing to eat? (Did I maybe even read about that here?)

PETA is notoriously fatphobic, which would irritate me more if any reasonable person could take them seriously. But I do love how they argue for "personal responsibility" at the very same time they're actively trying to nanny the whole world's eating habits. That's a neat trick.

Susan B said...

PETA sucks. Not only are they fond of fat-bashing, but hey, let's blame everyone who gets sick for causing their own illness! Cancer? Must've been that hot dog you ate when you were 8 years old. Give me an effin break!

Harriet said...


Going vegetarian can definitely be the first sign of an eating disorder. I think for kids who are susceptible there must be something about the very act of consciously restricting your food intake, even if the goal isn't weight loss, that triggers or activates the mechanism in play.

General rule of thumb for adolescents with eating disorders is that if their vegetarianism preceded their e.d. by years, then it's probably OK to let them stay veggie. But if it came as part of the e.d., then it's highly suspect.

I can't help but wonder if there's a subclinical e.d. aspect to being vegetarian for some people.

Carrie, I also wonder if there have been studies on the link between vegetarianism and health. That would be a good research project for some nutrition student out there! PETA claims there have been, but I don't know.

Anonymous said...

Mention research and I will google! Check this out...

Public Health Nutr. 2007 May;10(5):436-42. Links
How does the health and well-being of young Australian vegetarian and semi-vegetarian women compare with non-vegetarians?

Baines S, Powers J, Brown WJ.
School of Health Sciences, Nutrition and Dietetics, Box 38, Hunter Building, University of Newcastle, Callaghan, New South Wales 2308, Australia.
OBJECTIVE: To compare the sociodemographic characteristics, health status and health service use of vegetarians, semi-vegetarians and non-vegetarians. DESIGN: In cross-sectional data analyses of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health in 2000, 9113 women (aged 22-27 years) were defined as non-vegetarians if they reported including red meat in their diet, as semi-vegetarians if they excluded red meat and as vegetarians if they excluded meat, poultry and fish from their diet. RESULTS: The estimated prevalence was 3% and 10% for vegetarian and semi-vegetarian young women. Compared with non-vegetarians, vegetarians and semi-vegetarians were more likely to live in urban areas and to not be married. Vegetarians and semi-vegetarians had lower body mass index (mean (95% confidence interval): 22.2 (21.7-22.7) and 23.0 (22.7-23.3) kg m(-2)) than non-vegetarians (23.7 (23.6-23.8) kg m(-2)) and tended to exercise more. Semi-vegetarians and vegetarians had poorer mental health, with 21-22% reporting depression compared with 15% of non-vegetarians (P < 0.001). Low iron levels and menstrual symptoms were also more common in both vegetarian groups. Vegetarian and semi-vegetarian women were more likely to consult alternative health practitioners and semi-vegetarians reported taking more prescription and non-prescription medications. Compared with non-vegetarians, semi-vegetarians were less likely and vegetarians much less likely to be taking the oral contraceptive pill. CONCLUSION: The levels of physical activity and body mass indices of the vegetarian and semi-vegetarian women suggest they are healthier than non-vegetarians. However, the greater reports of menstrual problems and the poorer mental health of these young women may be of clinical significance.
PMID: 17411462 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

I guess a lot depends on what you mean by "healthier than non-vegetarians." The menstrual problems and depression certainly sound like nascent AN to me. There's a fair amount of research on vegetarianism and ED behavior suggesting a "slippery slope." Some mortality studies showed lower risk of death from heart disease in vegetarians. Tricky to discern what factors are responsible though. Check out the conclusion here.

Public Health Nutr. 2002 Feb;5(1):29-36. Links
Mortality in British vegetarians.

Appleby PN, Key TJ, Thorogood M, Burr ML, Mann J.
Imperial Cancer Research Fund, Cancer Epidemiology Unit, The Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, UK.
OBJECTIVE: To compare the mortality of British vegetarians and non-vegetarians. DESIGN: Analysis of original data from two prospective studies each including a large proportion of vegetarians--the Oxford Vegetarian Study and the Health Food Shoppers Study. Standardised mortality ratios (SMRs) compared with the population of England and Wales were calculated from deaths before age 90 for vegetarians and non-vegetarians in each study. Death rate ratios (DRRs) for vegetarians compared with non-vegetarians within each study were calculated for each of 14 major causes of death. SETTING: UK. SUBJECTS: Twenty-one thousand men and women aged 16-89 years at recruitment, including more than 8,000 vegetarians. RESULTS: SMRs for all causes of death were significantly below the reference level of 100 in both studies: 52 (95% confidence interval (CI) 49-56) based on 1,131 deaths in the Oxford Vegetarian Study and 59 (57-61) based on 2,346 deaths in the Health Food Shoppers Study. For all causes of death, the DRR for vegetarians compared with non-vegetarians was close to one in both studies: 1.01 (95% CI 0.89-1.14) in the Oxford Vegetarian Study, 1.03 (0.95-1.13) in the Health Food Shoppers Study. CONCLUSIONS: British vegetarians have low mortality compared with the general population. Their death rates are similar to those of comparable non-vegetarians, suggesting that much of this benefit may be attributed to non-dietary lifestyle factors such as a low prevalence of smoking and a generally high socio-economic status, or to aspects of the diet other than the avoidance of meat and fish.
PMID: 12001975 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Interesting stuff.

Anonymous said...

Even though I love animals, PETA's moral bullying and scare tactics turned me off a long time ago. They're forever picking on public figures and going on the attack to prove their own self-appointed superiority.

Rachel said...

I'm vegetarian and I'm still fat.

Multiple studies have shown a vegetarian diet to be vastly healthier than a meat-based one. But still... candy, french fries, pizza, pasta, chocolate, sugar and so on are all vegetarian foods. It's just as easy to be vegetarian and unhealthy just as it is to be a meat-eater and thin.

It sounds like PETA is operating under the same myth others do: that thin is tantamount to good health, and that if everyone just ate healthy, they too could be thin.

There's a lot of what PETA does I agree with. Still, I refuse to be a member. I don't agree with much of their outreach and marketing tactics. Several years ago, I participated in a PETA protest in downtown Cincinnati when Mad Cow Disease was the topic du jour. Me and several others from a local group, Compassion over Killing gathered with three PETA staffers.

Me and several others started passing out the leaflets and pamphlets PETA provided. We were actually engaging people in dialogue. The head PETA guy came over and told us to save our literature until the news came. It's all a media-blitz with them. Personally, I think I would have more of an impact if I could have convinced just one person to reduce or eliminate their meat consumption, than the 6 p.m. news would have had.

Unknown said...

Oh, my.

That is so incredibly offensive. On so many levels.

Bigots justify themselves in many ways. It is up to the rest of us to see it for what it is.

Thank you, Harriet - for seeing it, and saying it!!

Carrie Arnold said...


Fascinating studies. I like the conclusion of the last study- it's the most scientifically sound. That differences in death rates between the 2 groups are a) minimal and b) not necessarily attributed to vegetarianism than other lifestyle habits that go with it.

I think your new Blogger name should be "will Google for research." ;)

Anonymous said...

I think that's just as bad as telling everyone on the planet to eat every animal possible. Not only do we live in vastly different cultures (where some plants and/or animals may be unavailable), but some people CAN NOT eat a diet excluding one food group, for health reasons.

I applaud vegetarianism/veganism and animal rights and even I don't eat the flesh of cute animals (like bunnies) and I don't wear fur (it just creeps me out, okay?!), but PETA's recruiting methods are making many vegetarians and vegans all over the world look bad. Some people don't eat animals for religious/moral reasons or even for health reasons (example: they may have a heart condition or maybe they're allergic to animal products), but they don't deserve to be lumped in with PETA.

Also, some vegetarians DO have health problems, which may or may not be related to their diet. A common challenge for vegetarians/vegans is getting enough protien, calcium, or zinc in their diets. Some do find foods rich in those nutrients, but others do not.

And as you may know, Pamela Anderson is a spokeswoman of PETA...ah, no wonder they're so fat-phobic if they used bimbos to represent them. -_-;

Harriet said...


Thanks for the studies and for the pointer toward the conclusion. Fascinating. It makes sense that the health benefits of vegetarianism, whatever they are, might extend to other factors besides food intake.

Rachel, what a distressing story. Thank you for sharing it.

Bottom line: I'd like to see a society where it was just as offensive to comment on someone's weight as on their skin color, ethnicity, or IQ. We have a ways to go.

Carrie Arnold said...


I don't have a problem with vegetarianism. At all. Or the prevention of animal cruelty. I really don't. I DO have a problem with vegetarianism being turned into weightism. Large breasts do not equal bimboes or being fat. It's like PETA saying they have "one black friend" so they can't be racist. Their message to Michael Moore was weightist, and they imply that following a vegetarian lifestyle is the cure for the health system and obesity. Not the case.

Anonymous said...

The PETA thing distresses me greatly, because many musicians I respect greatly (e.g. Emmylou Harris, Nellie McKay, the Indigo Girls) are members of it. I don't like to think these musicians are mean-spirited people who hate all their fat fans and wish they'd all go away (who really wants to have fewer fans, after all?). They certainly haven't made noises like that in their interviews; they come across (unless I've missed something) as sincere, animal-loving people, and I would love it if I could endorse their cause, because I love animals too, and I do think as a society we over-consume meat, which is bad for ecological reasons if nothing else.

I hate animal testing of cosmetics; I can see the need for humanely-carried-out animal testing on drugs, but shampoo on the inside of a rabbit's eyelid? Please. And I have been a vegetarian myself in the past, and might be one again one day (I have to confess it would be very, very difficult for me to kill animals for food myself, which I think makes me somewhat hypocritical for eating what others have killed). But as long as Ingrid Newkirk is running the PETA show, it will be rife with the kind of rampant lipophobia I cannot support.

Surely Newkirk has been told over and over and over again by fat vegetarians and vegans, "We exist, open your frigging eyes and see us," but the story related above by Rachel just reinforces my perception that this organization cares more about seeing itself in the newspaper than it really cares about saving animals' lives. And that's a shame, because I think many people who belong to it actually do care, and just kind of roll their eyes and put up with the rest of it for the animals' sake.

Brian said...

I'm a fat vegetarian, too. Someone explain to me how stigmatizing fat has anything to do with cruelty to animals? Is cruelty to animals not enough? They have to play to cheap fat bigotry? It makes PETA look like a joke. I gather, though, that this is all PETA cares about being anymore. Just coasting on the residual interest of celebrities who probably aren't vegetarians but are thin and pretty so its okay from them.

mary said...

Firstly, I wasn't aware that Michael Moore was sick!
I respect a vegetarian diet when it's used mindfully. I also respected my old neighbors when they killed and prepared their own chicken as they really took responsibility for their meat, something I couldn't do. I set the darn birds free and we named them!
My daughter is a vegetarian and she now eats quite well even enjoying foods she never touched before. She's not a vegan...eggs and cheeses are quite welcome. Fortunately there are more foods than we realize and therefore a well balanced diet..including ice cream and fries...if one chooses. Are we losing choice here? It seems that when one group, be it gov't or PETA, tells all how we must eat we are at risk of running a large scale, nationwide prison system, where we all 'think' we are free but have inspections of our thoughts, our homes, our bodies, and get placed on lists. My father lived through this,being born in Poland, and I was well educated in the value of FREEDOM. Come on, I only want my neighbors on those lists, not me. : )Maybe this is why statistics studies disturb me. VIOLATION OF PRIVACY.

As for Michael Moore, it seems that he's been attacked for being an abuser of the health care system and an ASSUMPTION he is a drain because of the way he appears. His home was even attacked by one poster!
I know of people who MILK the system and all I can say is that this kind of person can not do it without a cost to their own life experience. Michael Moore appears to be a very intelligent man whose life experience is rich!
I am curious to see his response.
Perhaps I need to use MY blog today Harriet. I'ma thinking.

Rachel said...

PETA is trying to make vegetarianism look cool by equating it with sex. And, like much of America, they don't think fat is sexy.

Each Thanksgiving, they do a "Sexy Pilgrim" tour. I knew a girl several years ago who was the sexy pilgrim of the year. They dress a girl like a stripper, basically, and try to hawk vegetarianism to the ogling guys who flock around.

When the circus came to Cincinnati last year, they protested on Cincinnati's Fountain Square. A woman, dressed as a dominatrix, whipped a scantily clad male who was chained and handcuffed. Signs read "Chains belong in the bedroom" and asked people to boycott the circus.

mary said...

I noticed some of this type of campaigning too Rachael. Big on getting woman naked!

Anonymous said...

PETA is a joke. They are a bunch of hippocrits. They preach about save the animals and stop the abuse and so forth; yet they have been accused of killing dogs and throwing them in dumpsters. They kidnap people's dogs as well. What kind of BS is that?

What also makes me mad about PETA is that they try to force their beliefs on small children. Every year when you go to the circus they are out there with their hand outs and stickers giving them to little kids. It's ridiculous, leave the children alone! Don't terrify them and let them enjoy the small things in life while they still can!

Rachel said...

I don't disagree with PETA's opposition to circuses, and I feel they have more than a right to protest them. I only oppose the manner in which they do protest them. Handing a small child a pamphlet showing an animal being mutilated (yes, they've really done that) isn't the best way to go about achieving their so-called goals of reducing cruelty to animals.

Harriet said...


I would love to talk with you off-blog about a project I'm working on that you might be interested in. Would you email me privately at Thanks!


Anonymous said...

That's a load of bullcrap. Eating does NOT cause heart problems, high blood pressure, and all that crap. TOO MUCH meat does. But it also has to do with metabolism.

Sorry, but Ingrid Newkirk is full of it.