Chances are you know the name Ingrid Newkirk. If you don’t, I’d put twenty dollars and a pint of soy ice cream on the fact that you probably know the organization she calls home.
Ingrid is the President and Co-Founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – the largest animal rights group in the world. With over 2 million members, PETA speaks (OK, sometimes screams) for those creatures who have no voice at all.
Ingrid will be attending the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida’s 20th Anniversary Gala on March 14th and we had the privilege of sitting down with Newkirk for a chat!
Check out what Ingrid had to say about ARFF, Meatloaf and willing her body parts when she dies!
Ecorazzi: Hi Ingrid! Welcome to the Razz! Give our readers a brief history on PETA and how you decided to form the organization.
Ingrid Newkirk: Well, I grew up thinking that I cared about animals — and I truly did — but I’m now almost sixty and back then it meant that you knew that somebody kicking a dog was wrong or starving a horse, but you also wore fur, ate animals and didn’t think there was an option to testing cosmetics or shampoos on animals. So when I discovered that there were compassionate choices and that all animals are important – which I thank Peter Singer for that lesson – I suddenly realized that many things in my life had to change or I couldn’t really ever call myself a person that believes in kindness to animals.
So I formed PETA with five friends and our goal was to show people how appalling animals are treated in places most never go, like: laboratories, behind the Big-Top, fur farms and slaughterhouses. We didn’t want to make them sad or depressed, but instead show them that there are wonderful things they could choose instead of supporting those industries. And that’s what we’ve done for almost 30 years.
E: You’re appearing as a special guest at the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida’s 20 Anniversary Gala. How do you feel the organization has helped improve the welfare of animals living in Florida?
IN: Oh, I just have the utmost respect for ARFF – I love their name too. I think their founder Nanci Alexander is absolutely applaudable and truly a visionary. She’s totally devoted to fighting injustice to animals. She’s the one who objected to rounding up all those Muscovy Ducks — those poor things who waddle about totally harmless – and got all the troops out to help pass the ban on pig battery cages. Florida was the very first state to do that. And Ringling Bros. — which of course is an abominable circus — is based in Florida and she never lets an appearance or an event go by without protest. Perhaps most famously of all though, she decided to start Sublime – the vegan restaurant par excellence. I will die with coconut cake on my lips.
E: And speaking of death, you’ve recently arranged to have your body parts turned into “leather” products or barbecued when you die so as to help people recognize the connection between animals and humans. What do you say to those who criticize yourself and PETA for sometimes being too extreme?
IN: Well I don’t think it’s too extreme to use a body that you no longer have any use for, for a social cause – if we’re using that example. I think it’s very exciting that the only thing I really, truly care about – which is making a compassionate society – could live on after I’m gone.
As for generally, we’re like a car wreck! You may not want to look, but you have to turn around and look anyway. And we’ve learned that if we want people to talk about animals when they’re worried about the economy or war or children or any number of distractions, that we have to be provocative, gimmicky, extraordinary and sexy – so we are. And it’s only because seriousness has a very small place in today’s society. If somebody is serious it’s usually about war or the economy, but there’s a war on the Animal Nations and there has been since the beginning of time.
E: Both PETA and Ecorazzi love celebrity helpers. If there’s one celeb you’d love to see go VEG who would it be and why?
IN: Well I’d like Meat Loaf to go VEG.
E: So would we have to call him Veggie Meat Loaf?
IN: Right! He’d have to change his name, but it would be a huge press item. He’s had gastric bypass surgery and he wouldn’t have had to if he’d gone vegan. So I think for that I would choose him.
It’s time Gwyneth Paltrow — well I think she’s already vegetarian…
E: Actually Ecorazzi has posted some pretty interesting stuff about Paltrow promoting turkey and various other animal products on her blog.
IN: Oh really? Alright then I’ll go with Gywenth Paltrow. I’ve actually spotted her eating at Hangawi in New York. Stella McCartney is one of her best friends and if she can’t get it then she might as well eat the fur she wears.
E: There’s a rumor out there that PETA employees are encouraged to date omnivores so as to help convert more vegetarians. Any truth to that?
IN: There’s absolute truth to that! I encourage them! In fact if they get someone to see how wonderful a vegan diet is, I say, “ Dump him. Move on now! It’s his or her turn to go out and get somebody else over to our side.” When you talk to people one of the strongest reasons they go VEG is because they had a girlfriend or a boyfriend who was VEG.
E: Hey, well I have a long line of ex-girlfriends who’ve gone VEG thanks to me!
IN: Very good! I hope you date heavily.
E: ME TOO!!!! In 30 years of hard work what do you consider your proudest achievement as PETA’s president?
IN: It’s not very sexy, but my proudest achievement, or my happiest thought, is how many people have had their minds, their hearts, their outlooks changed about animals and can no longer see them as things, but really as part of life. That’s my proudest achievement.
If I had to point to something tangible, I think the first convictions of experimenters and factory farmers for cruelty to animals and the end of all crash tests on animals. That was a very hard campaign to win, and now if you see manikins on TV you have to think of PETA.
E: On that same note, is there any campaign in the past 30 years that you would have done differently?
IN: Many of them, but I’m not going to tell!
E: Fair enough! Now I always end with the same question for all the famous vegetarians I interview. If you had the chance to meet one person who you’ve found specifically instrumental in the vegetarian community – dead or alive, past or present – who would it be and why?
IN: Gosh! When I think about this strategically I would want to talk to the early Quakers who were vegetarians. I would also want to talk to Gandhi.
Gandhi had such hardships and he worried if things would really happen, but so did so many of the suffragette vegetarians who saw the lifestyle as an all-encompassing ethic. I would like to strategize with them.
But I think more than that I would like to talk to Sojourner Truth. I don’t think she was vegetarian — I don’t think that issue was even on her map. But her struggle parallels the struggle for animal rights so closely, and she was totally non-violent and very much attacked by the white men of her time. I’d be very curious to have a conversation with her.
Of course a great big thank you to Ingrid Newkirk for taking the time out of her busy schedule to sit down for a chat. Check out her new book One Can Make a Difference — it’s certainty earned a spot on my bookshelf!
Also, make sure you visit ARFF.org and get tickets to attend their 20th Anniversary Gala where you’ll have the chance to rub elbows with Ingrid, Pamela Anderson, Bob Barker and many more hard-working activists!