Why Is a Vegetable Something to Hide?

“The notion that human life has greater value than any other form of life is both unjustifiable and arrogant.”

– Wei Wu Wei (Terence Gray)

I’ve mentioned my veganism (less than 100 percent pure, I admit) a few times here at C?WC? I don’t really like to be a proselytizer for the cause, but from time to time events come up in the media that force me to challenge the yahoos who think it’s fun to get some laughs at the expense of vegans and generally ridicule the idea of veganism.

Does sex sell vegetarianism? PETA says yeah

Does sex sell vegetarianism? PETA says yeah

The latest cause célèbre fanning some of the anti-veganism was the non-airing of the PETA vegetable ad. (Check it out here.) Highly suggestive (and bringing to mind FZ’s classic song, “Call Any Vegetable” – available here in a kinda lousy video), the ad was too racy for NBC. Some critics say PETA never intended to run the ad, given the huge expense of Super Bowl spots; it just wanted the free publicity. If that were the plan, I’d say it was a pretty clever one. Of course, along the way the group stirred up some feminists and some people who just don’t like PETA’s pro-animal agenda.

My overall take on PETA, as I’ve said before: I support it financially, I enjoy reading the mag, I think its undercover work documenting animal abuse is indispensable.  But it maybe pushes more buttons than it has to while getting its message out. Still, in this case, I will defend it.

As far as the feminists: While I consider myself pretty sensitive to women’s rights and to treating women well on a personal level, I wasn’t sure I had the right genital credentials to comment on the ad’s alleged sexism. Hey, as a red-blooded hetero male, however strong my feminist bona fides may look on paper, I still like to look at hot women. But I don’t like the way sex is used to sell products, e.g., Hooters, drink/cigarette/car ads, etc.  I asked Samantha to check out the ad, and she wasn’t offended. Now, that’s just one woman’s view, but I think others might join us in seeing the ad as OK.

My view: The sexuality is so over the top, and since it was putatively aimed at the largely testosterone-driven  male Super Bowl audience, it was a parody/satire of the typical sex-sells ad campaign. I laughed when I saw it, as PETA took a serious issue and made fun of the way Madison Avenue usually works to sell crap we don’t need. Samantha said something similar, that PETA was just acknowledging that sex sells and ramping it up to stand out even more (I apologize, honey, if I’m missing the nuances). The veggie ad is the next step up from the “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” campaigns, which I guess the feminists never cared for either. Again, with that one, I thought it was a clever way to catch people’s attention in an environment that is generally so hostile to PETA’s admirable message.

In the Tribune, columnist Steve Johnson was in high dudgeon over the ad. (The online version does not have the print headline, which says the ad “drives me right back to beef.”)  He doesn’t say he’s a feminist,  but he says the ad would “make a European television censor blush.” So I guess he dislikes all attempts to use sex in media ads? Well, he doesn’t say that either, but he certainly resents PETA for not using “logic” to make its case, and instead counting on the free publicity from getting the ad banned.

uncovering abuses. And some of the images of animal slaughter hasn't passed TV censors either.

The less-sexy side of PETA: uncovering abuses. And some of the images of animal slaughter also haven't passed TV censors.

Of course, if Mr. Johnson bothered to look at PETA’s websites or publications, he’d see it relies on a lot of logic, lots of cold, hard facts, to make its case. But because PETA is ethically challenged on the sexism stuff, he seems to say, it loses points in its larger concern of persuading people not to kill animals for profit or pleasure. “It’s entirely possible that vegetarianism is more ethical than consuming animal flesh,” he writes, leaving open the possibility of – what? That they are morally equal? That eating animal flesh is the more ethical act?

But because of the ad, Johnson says, PETA alienates people since it seems to “take [its] ethics a la carte.” His response to the whole episode: eat an extra hamburger, to show PETA it needs to take a more appropriate path in presenting its debatably more-ethical message. Because PETA was wrong to treat “fellow humans like meat” (and maybe that’s another point of the satire of the ad?), humans should eat more animal flesh to chastise PETA.


(In a later column reviewing the Super Bowl ads that did air, Johnson said the cause of animal rights was advanced, notwithstanding the absence of PETA, because of the Budweiser Clydesdale ads. He really doesn’t get what animal rights are all about, do he?)

I understand why some people don’t really want to think about the morality of eating animals, or hunting and fishing, or using animals in reserach or as entertainment in zoos and circuses.  And I don’t feel comfortable saying my position/act/lifestyle is morally superior to yours. But on this issue, I guess I am saying that. Or least taking a lot of words to say I think Johnson’s  column and the whole ad flap were pretty dumb. And to register my protest, I’m gonna eat more tofu all week.

FYI:  Today’s title comes from the FZ song mentioned above:

“Call and they’ll come to you covered with dew
Vegetables dream, of responding to you
Standing there shiny and proud by your side
Holding your hand while the neighbors decide
Why is a vegetable something to hide?…

What a pumpkin!”


~ by mburgan on February 2, 2009.

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