Bil Browning

Open Thread: PETA & McDonalds

Filed By Bil Browning | August 30, 2009 4:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Andy Dick, Martin Short, McDonalds, PETA, Ronald McDonald

I'll admit it, I'm a PETA member. As my bio says, I'm a non-practicing vegetarian (I can never stick with it; bacon is my downfall every time.) but animals in circuses is my top cause. Before we became the Bilerico Project and the focus shifted to mostly-gay-most-of-the-time, I often blogged about animal cruelty in circuses, animal collectors, dog fighting and puppy mills. We're even linked in PETA blog's blogroll.

The latest PETA internet clip targets McDonalds with the help of Andy Dick and Martin Short.

So here's the open thread question for today: Scads of people can't stand PETA and/or McDonalds. Do you support either? Why?

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I can't stand PETA. They're so insular and ineffective. Is there a single person who treated an animal better because of one of their actions?

OK, I'm being glib.

McDonalds, yuck. That's all I have to say about that.

So, no, support neither. Although I'd have to put PETA out in front of McDo.

McDonald's put me through college... of course at minimum wage, working scalding hot, backbreaking work through the night, I also had to take out about $50,000 in loans as well... So, thanks for very little, Ron.

I couldn't care less about the food now that I don't eat beef or pork, so no I don't support McDonald's.

I SUPPORT PETA, but like Tobi and Alex both mentioned, they give people lots of reasons to dislike them... there are times that they piss me off. I especially agree with Tobi's assertion of fataphobia (though to be fair, I've recently been accused of that as well after some poor word choices on the Lundon Calling podcast, so I guess I can give them the benefit of the doubt).

I imagine that I would be way more likely to eat at Mickies than a PETA party but I'm not particularly that fond of the macshack.

PETA just doesn't respect other progressive concerns. They've sold out feminists, made fun of fat folks and trans women. Fatphobia, sexism, and transphobia are good ways to communicate with the mainstream, but at what cost. I have more respect for the log cabin republicans.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | August 30, 2009 7:39 PM

Tobi, I have to admit I'm totally unfamiliar with the criticisms you're leveling. Other than assuming that one of your criticisms refers to the ad, "Save the Whales, Go Vegetarian."

Honestly, I disagree that that ad is making fun of fat folks. By every objective measure, as a nation, we are growing fat. The gain in average weight for Americans over my lifetime is stunning. I can tell you firsthand, Americans now have a reputation in Europe for being obese: my Irish cousins were surprised upon meeting me that I wasn't fat. It's not an exaggeration to say we have an epidemic of obesity. It is also objectively true that a vegetarian diet is generally more healthy and lower in fat than the average American diet that include meat.

I am not against fat people on moral grounds, nor would I ever make fun of fat people, nor condone such. You know well, however, that many people do; and one common reference is to call fat people, "whales."

IMO, the ad is deliberately invoking that ugly reference, but not necessarily condoning it, in the process hoping to shock people into quitting meat. Whether or not the ad succeeds, is open to serious question. Shock and controversy can be successful tactics in advertising.

Unless you know information I don't, however, claiming that the mentality behind the ad condones condemnation of fat people, especially for moral reasons is, I believe, assuming facts not in evidence.

Put differently, one can aim to shock and risk offending, without condoning the beliefs one deliberately provokes or references. Comedians do it ALL the time. Advertising, on the other hand, does it selectively because the last thing an agency wants to do is offend the potential customers of their corporate clients.

PETA, and this is not news, clearly has no fear of offending pretty much anyone.

Does the "whales" ad actually get anyone to go vegetarian? Perhaps. But the tactic is to make all fat people feel bad about themselves to do so. If the issue is health, then stick to health issues (like diet). When you make it about maligning fat people, it's causing damage to an already maligned population regardless of their diet/health. And if you think fat and health are equivalents, please read a book on fatphobia. I have a partner who was a member of SETA and fat and vegan. When they came out with their ad campaign printing unflattering images of fat celebrities and telling them they should go vegan it was the straw that broke the camels back and they dissolved their chapter of SETA.

Horrible ad campaigns have been going on for quite a while. And it's not just a matter of "offending" people, but a matter of hurting people. Their recent "Fur is a drag" campaign attempts to make the ugliness of the fur industry visible by playing on the assumption that drag queens are ugly. Similarly, an ad campaign a while ago tried to get folks to understand KFC's horrible treatment of animals by comparing it to drag queens and trans women who also have a "big ugly secret" -- essentially mobilizing cultural trans panic in an attempt to direct it at KFC.

Then the whole stunt of dressing up like the KKK! It's this at-any-cost method that pisses me off. Frankly, if some people become vegetarians because of PETA, but it comes at the cost of using oppression to hurt, malign, and generally make other people feel unsafe, then it's not worth it. I'm sure they could find another way to encourage vegetarianism.

And if you want to know more, try googling PETA and fatphobia, or PETA and racism, or PETA and transphobia. You'll get most of their recent stuff, but if you dig you'll find a lot more, it's been going on for a very long time.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | August 31, 2009 6:36 PM

Hmmmm. I did a quick search, as you suggested. And I still am not offended. Is PETA deliberately pushing people's buttons? Absolutely. Does that mean they are transphobic, fatphobic, racist, etc.? I still don't think so.

And as you know, I am trans. Pro-drag queens. I don't hate fat people. I'm also one of the most leftist bloggers here and hold among the most radical beliefs. I'm not vegan, but I eat mostly vegetarian, almost no dairy nor eggs, and just very occasional fish.

I agree that the link between health and fat is not as straight forward as a lot of people think. But it is indisputable in type-2 diabetes, strokes and heart disease, hip and joint problems, and other serious health problems that are affecting staggeringly high numbers of Americans.

Since I engaged in this thread, as a result of what I've seen of their ads, I actually feel more pro-PETA. And, on reflection, more anti-McDonalds. The fast food industry drives a host of bad developments in our society: low-wage/no benefits employment, unhealthy life-styles, unethical and cruel treatment of animals, global deforestation, and more. I think the industry is pretty evil. On the other hand, I don't think PETA is.

Moreover, to find ads that are offensive in their mediocrity, creepy corporate mascot, and obeisance to the corrupt status-quo, you don't have to go farther than McDonalds.

It's not about if the ARE transphobic, sexist, etc. It's not about if they hate fat people. It's not about examining their moral character or how they feel about minorities. It's about what they are DOING.

Do they believe in the oppressive tripe that they reproduce ad naseum without any criticism or dissaproval? I imagine not, but that's not the point. How do you think it impacts communities of color to see folks in white hoods and robes handing out flyers and talking about the sanctity of pure bloodlines?

And I know they aren't trying to make fun of drag queens or trans women, but I don't think the Crying Game was trying to do that either. They seem to be doing about the same thing though.

The "whales" ad is only the latest in a long line of ads designed to make fat folks feel bad about themselves. And you don't seem to disagree and instead try to make the case that making fat folks feel bad about themselves is justified.

Again, I don't care who hates what, I only care about actions. These ads don't just offend my sensibilities, they hurt my friends, my family, and me.

How far would it have to go to change your mind? What if they had a campaign against genetic engineering of livestock, placing the text "Freaks of nature shouldn't exist" along with the famous picture of Thomas Beattie? All your arguments would still apply. They could just be repeating bigotry, not condoning it. Using the existing prejudicial sentiment to shock people and gain attention. Would PETA's good intentions and positive work still lead you to dismiss concerns of hurting oppressed populations with their ads?

Precisely. They're perpetuating the attitudes. Just like the Religious people who say they don't advocate for violence against gay people... they just advocate for the hatred and rhetoric that LEADS to the ferver and lunacy that LEADS to the violence against gay people.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | August 30, 2009 6:07 PM

I know PETA engenders strong antipathy in many people...not me. I strongly support their mission, although not always their means.

People might be surprised to discover that neither does Mc-D trigger my ire. In the last decade, I've eaten there fewer than ten times: perhaps fewer than five, I can't remember. The only time I used to get a hankering, especially for what they call "fries" (which, I don't believe are actual cut potatoes, are they, but rather processed potato gunk?) would be on a road-trip with friends. I suspect that wouldn't even be enough to trigger a craving in me now. The longer you go without that sort of food, the less appealing it becomes.

What Tobi said. PETA wants ethical treatment of animals, yet the way they treat many groups of people (women, people of color, fat people, trans people, and so forth) is far from ethical. Their latest fatphobic attack offended me beyond the point of repair, ever.

Personally, I can't support PETA after their ad about the murder of Tim McLean (the man who was murdered on a Greyhound bus a little over a year ago). Saying that it was in poor taste just doesn't cover it. Another reason I don't quite agree with people who call eating meat "murder" is, where do you draw the line? Is it murder to kill fish? Is it murder when a squirrel is hit by a car? Is it murder when someone kills a spider in their house, or steps on an ant outside? What about when animal predators hunt? Does PETA condemn wolves or lions as murderers? I honestly don't quite understand their reasoning much of the time. If anyone can clarify this matter, though, please do. It's something I've been curious about for quite a while.

As for McDonald's, I'm not a huge fan of them either, just because it's not healthy (but the problem with McD's is grease, not meat - although I don't 100% trust their meat).

if God didnt want us to eat animals, then why did he make them out of meat?

Meat is Murder! tasty, tasty murder...

peta is simply a bunch of really skinny people thinking they are better than everyone else for NOT eating meat. idiots.

and McD's is ok every once in awhile.

If I didn't think they were totally worthless before, the recent "sea kitten" episode sealed it for me.

My partner is a vegan who has actually organized anti-circus protests in other cities. He really wants to support PETA, but finds his advocacy to be much more effective if he makes it clear he has nothing to do with PETA.

What Tobi said. Straight up.

No, I do not support Peta. Indeed, I find them enormously annoying and exceptional bigoted as a whole in most of their efforts.

And yes, I do mean bigotry.

As for Mcdonald's, and the advertisement in particular, I have to sorta giggle, given that "chicken mcnuggets" were created by a researcher at Cornell University.

Funny, they aren't attacking him.

Its not that they are animals. The methods of feeding the population that would meet PETA's requirements would actually result in a food shortage.

So in my opinion, if someone wants to do so, they are absolutely welcome to come up with a more viscerally pleasant way of doing so.

But be aware that most Americans these days have no clue who makes their food, how their food is processed, what's *in* their food, and the degree to which so much of that enormous industry is based on the ability of the nation to successfully feed itself.

Is it perfect? No. Not even close. Hell, its not even efficient.

"The methods of feeding the population that would meet PETA's requirements would actually result in a food shortage."

As whacked as American idea of portion and diet is, I'm not sure I'd agree with this statement unless you shared with us where you found that.

Food is in abundance in this world, and we have plenty of farm land here in the US to grow food to feed everyone.

Hunger is not a problem of how much food, but how that food is divvied up. Even I eat WAY more than I should when I sit down to a meal (did I REALLY need a whole third of a package of turkey bacon at breakfast?) If food was divided up more equally it would mean I would have to eat a little less, but I wouldn't starve by any means.

I'm similarly skeptical of that statement. I've heard statistics before of how much food and farmland it takes to feed and raise livestock at the large numbers that the industry does. If everyone did go vegetarian, then we would no longer be raising that much livestock, and the grain and farm land that had been feeding them would provide significantly more nutrition than the livestock would.

But the world would not go vegetarian. Even vegetarian-lite.

The reason I note this is that the methods used for intensive agribusiness today are, for all their many, many flaws, still far more efficient than the model often advanced by PETA, which, to my understanding, is essentially a more "organic" way.

Organic production does not enable the scalability that's needed to enable such.

The current system *can* be improved.

I'm sadly familiar with the impact of small scale efforts, and well aware of the harsh conditions of the large scale formats. Those, too can be improved but the solution isn't, in my opinion, to forcibly reduce the amount of meat eaten.

Portioning and diet control are important to me, personally. And for me, a diet which is healthy does indeed include meat.

I'm not going to project that personal requirement on others, as not too many people have the hard time with legumes that I do. But when you have gluten issues and a wide variety of various other problems, its not going to be an option.

The US can, indeed, feed the world. It can, indeed improve agribusiness in terms of efficiency. It can, indeed, solve the problem of aiding other countries to create their own sustainable food production systems -- without making the mistakes that we have made.

And yes, Portion control on the part of Americans would help -- but isn't likely, again, unless you compel it.

And that's one area where I would not only stand up and fight, but would do so on the same basis I fight for our rights.

Ahh, that makes more sense now. I'm not all that familiar with the details of PETA's advocacy and I assumed they just wanted the world to go vegetarian. And while that's not so likely, as you point out, it wouldn't lead to a food shortage. If PETA's advocating something else, such as small scale organic meat, I can see your point.

You're so right, Tobi! However, folks don't even have to go THAT far. People need only cut their meat intake by 20% to make all sorts of positive changes from neutralizing global warming, to extending their own lives to increasing energy AND freeing up more farmland. Buy a little less meat, buy it locally and buy better quality, leaner meat. Add more veggies, shrink your portions and reduce your reliance on chains (both for shopping as well as eating out). You'll have a huge impact on your health, the environment and your local economy all at once!

interesting you say that. I have a three item rule for each meal, which is typically twice a day for me, and then many, many snacks throughout the day of small portions.

My only "meat" meal is dinner, most often, and my portion is relatively small, never more than 6 ounces and usually 4.

Prior to transition, however, that same meal was about twice as much. I've gained weight since then, not much, but enough to cause me some consternation, but since I won't diet, I have to figure out why.

The other two items are typically vegetables and/or dairy.

I also do enjoy eggs on occasion for breakfast.

Moderation is the key -- above all else.

I am VEHEMENTLY anti-PETA. No, I don't support cruelty to animals. I love animals. I'm actually a vegetarian (Practically vegan). However, I believe that you can't be pro-animal and anti-human. You can't complain about animals not having rights when you exploit women.

I am anti-McDonald's simply for the way they treat their workers.

Hey everyone, we wanted to take a minute to explain the thoughts behind some of our tactics.

PETA's purpose is to stop animal suffering, and we use all available opportunities to reach millions of people with powerful messages. We have found that people do pay more attention to our more provocative actions, and we consider the public's attention to be extremely important. Sometimes this requires tactics - like naked marches and colorful ad campaigns - that some people find outrageous or even "rude," but part of our job is to grab people's attention and even shock them in order to initiate discussion, debate, questioning of the status quo, and, of course, action. The current situation is critical for billions of animals, and our goal is to make the public think about the issues.

Unfortunately, getting the animal rights message to the public is not always easy and straightforward. Unlike our opposition, which is mostly composed of wealthy industries and corporations, PETA must rely on getting free "advertising" through media coverage. We often do outrageous things to get the word out about animal abuse, because sadly, the media usually do not consider the facts alone "interesting" enough to cover. Colorful and controversial gimmicks, on the other hand consistently grab headlines, thereby bringing the animal rights message to audiences around the country and, often, the world.

We would much prefer to do things without the gimmicks - if only it worked. We'd like nothing better than to be able to show the media videos of factory farms, fur farms, and animals in laboratories and have them find it newsworthy enough to cover. But they don't. However, when we attach a gimmick, that very same animal abuse ends up in newspapers and on televisions nationwide. Experience has taught us that provocative and controversial campaigns make the difference between keeping important yet depressing subjects invisible and having them widely seen. The alternative is to be ignored in the torrent of tabloid-style stories that dominate the popular press.

Thank you for giving us the chance to explain the thoughts behind our tactics. We hope that even though we may not always agree on all points, we can still work together on those ones that we do agree on.


I can't speak for everyone, but I don't find PETA's advertising and "gimmicks", as you call them, merely rude. I find them incredibly offensive. And as a queer, fat, trans-allied woman, your tactics have certainly gotten my attention. They've also guaranteed that I'll never support what you're doing, even though I'm opposed to animal cruelty. Fighting for the ethical treatment of animals shouldn't come at the cost of unethical treatment of people (especially those in already marginalized groups).

Thanks for coming to here to join the conversation. Can you clarify, are you empowered to speak on behalf of PETA? Are you a staff person? A volunteer?

Anyway, I'll say that it's not the gimmicks that bother me. This particular video about McDonalds does the trick fairly well, has some star power, and will certainly get a lot of play in internet humor forums. What bothers me is when you further the oppression of marginalized people as part of getting attention. Choose your gimmicks more carefully. As this video proves, you don't need to exploit trans people, women, people of color, or fat folks in order to get media coverage. In fact, when you lash out at minority populations, it might buy some traction with the mainstream but you're turning off large audiences. Most of my progressive/radical friends refuse to work with PETA for that reason.

Frankly, I agree with your mission statement. Almost all my friends do too. But we won't be able to work together on our common goals if it means being exposed to hostility, ridicule, and prejudice in the process.

Hi Tobi, thanks for your response. To answer your question, yes I'm speaking on behalf of PETA. My name is Christine Dore and I'm the marketing special projects coordinator at PETA.

To those of you who have left comments disagreeing with our stance, we respect your opinion on this matter and understand that you might not agree. Even among those of us who care about animals and share similar goals, there are times when there will be a difference of opinion.

We hope that among our many campaigns to help animals, there are others worthy of your support such as our low-cost spay/neuter services [] or our work to end cruel and unnecessary product testing on animals [].

We appreciate everything you all do for animals!

Rick Synowski | August 31, 2009 5:10 PM

I don't do fast food so have no comment on McDonalds other than I knew an owner of a couple of McDonald's franchises who fed the homeless at his restaurants and employed mentally handicapped people.

But about PETA: One of my favorite stories from Daniel Quinn's autobiography was abaout his response to one of his vegen critics to the effect of what gives you the right to decide which life form is sacred and should not be killed for food and which should?

PETA has admittedly done some good no argument, but also a lot of bad. They did no service to horses in this country by closing down the horse slaughter houses. The animal slaughter house which is a mile from my ranch was closed down by the PETA people---by intimidation. Now in are area people just turn their old, sick and injured and otherwise unwanted horses out on BLM land to fend for themselves which as domesticated animals they simply can't do, so they just starve to death or die from injuries. Or folks just let their animals starve to death at home. The horse rescue folks simply can't keep up with the situation. There are now thousands upon thousands of horses dying slow agonizing deaths or barely surviving in crowded small pens who have PETA to thank.

well, in defense of PETA, it isn't their fault the horse owners turn their animals loose.

Its the horse owner's problem for disposal. Their queasiness should not be the responsibility of the BLM.

Indeed, given the BLM's record, lol, its probably a worse solution overall.

bah. if you think about it, peta people (and others) are trying really really hard to FORCE their views on others, just like the damned xtians do. i think i'll order my beef from Brazil and Japan, just to piss people like them off.

beergoggles | August 31, 2009 9:59 PM

I dislike peta because they come across as a-holes. Also, I appreciate all the scientific progress that has come about through animal experimentation, and animals are tasty.. mmmmm bacon.

I dislike McDonalds because their burger patties taste like cardboard. BK and Wendy's have far better tasting burgers.

FWIW, I'm also a big proponent of genetically modified food since I don't buy into the whole paranoia of "zomg I'm going to turn into a mutant by eating corn that was genetically modified to resist disease!!!!" So I say bring on the 6 legged chickens, although what I'm really waiting for is being able to own my own vat that can grow steaks.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | August 31, 2009 11:09 PM

To the people on this thread who are essentially arguing, "Yum, I loovve meat. Don't tell me how unhealthy it is, nor how much suffering producing the way we do requires. And, oh yeah, PETA is offensive."

Two things: 1) Sure, you'd be more amenable to an argument if PETA phrased it with less controversy. And I have a bridge for sale in Brooklyn. And, 2) I find your blind willingness to support the industrial farming industry in this country much more offensive than any ad I've seen by PETA.

well, I wouldn't categorize my lack of support for PETA as a blind willingness to support the agribusiness model as currently practiced.

Indeed, I've worked alongside PETA members in some areas seeking to effect sustainable and profitable improvements in the industry.

You are correct -- at this point, I would not be willing to necessarily support PETA more if they changed tacticcs.

My son would, though.

I can honestly say that were PETA to stop putting out offensive ads (I have no problem with "gimmicky" advertising - I do agree that it's a little sad a message can't be spread without having to do that), I would be more inclined to support and respect what they do (although I wouldn't necessarily agree with them to the point of joining up or going vegetarian - I do like my meat).

As for the quip about how unhealthy meat is, since we've evolved as omnivores, I'm pretty sure our bodies are designed to digest meat, and it can't be unhealthy for every species in general because how many species are carnivores? They wouldn't have evolved to eat meat if herbivores were healthier. It's consuming an excess of meat that's unhealthy, but that goes for everything.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | September 1, 2009 9:04 PM

Michelle, if you think my reference to the unhealthiness of meat refers to the mere practice of carnivores or omnivores eating meat, I suggest you read something about the industrial food industry in this country. Put "meat industry" into Amazon's search engine, and take your pick of books.

The way meat ends up on American tables is not only incredibly cruel, it's incredibly unhealthy. For example, we feed cattle food they can't readily digest and which makes them sick, and pack them together so tightly they need antibiotics or they'd die. Then we slaughter them in ways that are not only sickeningly inhumane, but also unsanitary. The meat industry has ensured that only a tiny fraction of beef is checked for mad-cow disease--they also fought tooth and nail legislation banning the mixing of rendered cattle parts into feed for cattle. Not sure who won that legislative battle.... Why else do you think that the EU and Japan mistrust our meat?

But don't let me stop you! Enjoy your meat.