Why PETA Is Meat’s Best Friend

Jokes are not the best way to deal with the question of animal suffering

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Eating meat involves killing animals, an act few of us ever witness, let alone participate in. I’m okay with that; I’ve gone on record as saying that I love meat and animals but never want to be present at the moment when one becomes the other. That’s me. But many other Americans are ambivalent, and on the eve of the biggest dead-animal holiday of the year, the highest-profile animal rights organization in the country, PETA, has failed, yet again, to make anybody feel remotely bad about eating animals.

(MORE: Top 10 Outrageous PETA Stunts)

What’s unfortunate for that organization is that in the same week it did one of its idiotic publicity stunts — asking Turkey, Texas, to change its name to Tofurkey, Texas — somebody else did the job PETA should have been doing and documented the abuses taking place at Sparboe Farms, a massive egg farm that sold to McDonald’s. 20/20’s video, which is ghastly, succeeded in getting McDonald’s and fellow Sparboe customer Target to immediately drop it as a supplier. No Sandusky-style “internal investigation,” no temporizing, no excuses; just a swift stroke of the knife. When that happened, untold millions of chickens were spared the cruelties shown so starkly in the video. For farms of that scale, losing McDonald’s is tantamount to Lockheed losing the Pentagon. It’s practically their reason for being. And you can bet other big suppliers don’t want to lose McDonald’s either. So real-world economic pressures changed the way animals live and die in America — just as they did in 2007, when Burger King became the first of the fast-food giants to implement a cruelty-free meat program.

Meanwhile, PETA, which should be in the vanguard of this type of thing, just keeps pulling lame pranks that make people like me feel even better about eating meat. Tofurkey, Texas? Really? Everything about the setup is dumb: the idea that the name of a town is equivalent to killing the thing it’s named for, the choice of a Texan town (the birthplace of Bob Wills!), the choice of a weird, fake, tasteless product as a substitute. It’s just so tone-deaf, just like another recent stunt in which PETA went after Super Mario for dressing up like a raccoon. (According to the press release, “Tanooki may be just a ‘suit’ in Mario games, but by wearing the skin of an animal, Mario is sending the message that it’s OK to wear fur.”)

Sometimes I think that PETA is a front group for the National Cattleman’s Council. Why else would its members go out of their way to seem so crankish and pissy? How is that supposed to help? PETA, as one of the biggest animal-rights groups in the world, should be doing more to combat puppy mills, unnecessary and inhumane cosmetic testing and the like. But instead of waiting until it has something really important to say, the group issues dopey agit-prop press releases and what ends up happening is that PETA and the movement it represents becomes a joke. Literally. I wish I had copyrighted that “People for the Eating of Tasty Animals” T-shirt that I see everywhere.

(MORE: Josh Ozersky: A Manifesto For a Tastier Thanksgiving)

And jokes are not the best way to deal with the question of animal suffering. This week, like his predecessors, President Obama will ceremonially pardon a turkey, a tired gag that never fails to elicit nervous laughter around the country. I had a similar feeling when judging the Jack Daniels Barbecue Contest, where they pardoned a cow, a chicken and a pig. I laughed, but I couldn’t wait for the animals to go away, so I could start eating the barbecue.

There’s really no reason why eggs, pork, beef or, for that matter, turkey can’t be produced in a relatively humane and responsible way. But it seems that the militant anti-meat forces, of which PETA is the most conspicuous voice, don’t want that to happen. The group wants to feed a nation of 300 million on … what? Soy products? Those are so bad that a Florida inmate recently sued the prison system for inflicting cruel and unusual punishment at chow time. According to PETA, you shouldn’t eat farmed fish, you shouldn’t drink wine, and if you have to eat meat, you ought to eat road kill. The PETA fallacy is to blindly and indiscriminately attack something that can’t and won’t change and to feel as a result that the activists have fulfilled their moral obligation to the animals by having done so. They haven’t. ABC News, a for-profit entity with no special moral mandate, has. I wonder if PETA notices the irony.