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Interviews

Ingrid Newkirk: President of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)
Interviewed by Doh Driver
March 2003

How long have you been vegan, and what originally led you to give up all animals products?
About 30 years now. Someone made fun of me for putting milk in my tea in the morning. He said, "Do you eat veal?" I said, "Of course, not." He then explained how the dairy industry created the veal industry and if we weren't stealing the milk from the calves, the calves wouldn't be in crates. I was mortified. Then I learned that if you pay for eggs, you subsidize the chicken meat industry, and that the only difference between the two is that egg-laying chickens suffer for longer. They all end up hanging upside down by their legs, screaming.

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What led you to form PETA, and when was it founded?
I always cared about animals, but Peter Singer's book, Animal Liberation, made me realize that I also believed animals should not only be treated kindly within the context of using them, but that they are not ours to use. As I learned more, I thought it would be useful to share that information. PETA was founded in 1980.

How big is the paid staff, the volunteer staff, and the membership?
The paid staff numbers about 120; we have tons of respected volunteers, and about 750,000 members and supporters internationally.

How do you decide what issues become PETA campaigns?
We choose the areas in which the largest numbers of animals suffer the most; and where one action can have lasting impact. Everyone eats, hence the veg campaign which involves billions upon billions of animals in the US alone every year. Our other main focal points are the abuse and exploitation of animals in vivisection, clothing, entertainment, pest control, and domesticated animals.

What is your response to critics who think PETA is too radical or too aggressive?
I think Chrissie Hynde said it best, "Rather go too far than not far enough." We have to be aggressive when those we stick up for have no voice. I don't consider it radical to say cruelty is wrong and that animals should be respected. I consider it radical to eat corpses, put electrodes in animals' heads, make elephants live in chains in the circus, and poison animals we consider a nuisance. I would also say, "Stop looking at what we're doing and just concentrate on what you are doing. If you have a better idea, grand. More power to you."

What directions do you see the organization going in the near future? What are your ultimate goals with PETA?
Our goals and direction remains true to our founding. We wish to raise awareness, shake people out of their dirty, cruel habits, and facilitate a change to a cruelty-free world.

What frustrates you most about your work, and what are the rewards?
Human beings. Too often they opt for convenience, can't be bothered to extend themselves, don't care to learn and prefer to keep eating, wearing and using animals rather than grow and be the thinking, kind animal we tell people we are. The rewards are seeing so much has changed over the years and watching people find creative ways to bring animal rights ideas, vegan cooking, and so on into their homes, work places, schools and communities. Individual activism is the best thing in the world. All that matters is that each of us do as much as we can.

What are a couple of your favorite PETA success stories?
Stopping General Motors from performing crash tests on animals: It took everything from polite letters to burning donated GM cars, before they'd listen. But they did. Getting Burger King to offer a veggie burger to mainstream America, so that ordinary meat eaters who would never go to a veggie restaurant, actually see it on the menu and try it.

What is the one thing you wish everyone to know about animals and/or PETA?
That we may be big, but we are small compared to even one of our enemies, so please join us, use our materials, use our videos, become one of our activist contacts, be part of it our "Army of the Kind."

Do you have any advice for people who are concerned about the treatment of animals?
I recommend people concentrate on the positive so as not to burn out or get depressed: there is so much each of us can do, from putting newsletters around town, to showing a video at a table at a mall, to getting a bill introduced before our city council to ban chaining dogs or having animal circuses. PETA has all the materials anyone could need, and the advise. All we need is enough people to get busy for the animals.

Doh Driver is the full-time single parent of Griffin, her 3-year-old healthy, breastfeeding, joyous little vegan. She is also a part-time yoga instructor in Florida, and became completely vegan as of New Year's Day, after 12 years of saying, as a vegetarian, she could never be vegan. By making peaceful and compassionate choices in her life, she hopes to provide her son with a model of mindful, gentle living.
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