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How Do You Counter People Who Attack You For Being Vegetarian?

In conversation with Ingrid Newkirk, Founder of PETA India and of PETA affiliates worldwide.

1. What is the one reason one should consider going vegetarian?

Because you tell yourself that you are a good person, and a peek inside today's dairy industry would convince you that good people would never support the everyday, rampant abuse of cows and buffaloes. Of course, this routine suffering is often added to during natural disasters – for example, when there was that terrible monsoon flooding in Mumbai some years ago, dairies flooded and countless buffaloes all drowned because they were tied up in their stalls and could not escape. And there is no retirement home for 99% of cows on dairy farms – they end up being killed quietly or even exported alive to the Middle East to be killed there after a hideous journey.


2. How would you respond to people who pass statements like "even plants have feelings?"

This is really just said as a silly, defensive excuse not to stop hurting animals, the environment, and your own arteries by clogging them with animal fat. But if you really worry that plants have feelings – and perhaps we will find out definitively one day that they do, who knows? – then you must stop consuming meat and dairy, because cows eat many, many more times the amount of plant food than humans do when we eat plant food directly. So by eating meat and dairy, you are killing all those plants plus the animal!


3. How would you respond to the following arguments:


a) This is the circle of life or the natural order of things?

If you mean "might makes right" in a civilised society, we reject that idea and believe we should conduct ourselves with magnanimity, kindness, understanding, and respect, not according to "survival of the fittest". Speaking of the natural order of things, calves, not humans, are the natural drinkers of cows' milk. And although some humans in Borneo and Polynesia and so on ate other humans for centuries, it is not considered natural to be a flesh-eater. Flesh is for zombies!


b) If Human beings are not supposed to eat animals why are they biologically omnivores?

Humans are not carnivores or natural cow's milk drinkers. Our teeth, digestive tracts, and so on indicate we are ill suited to digesting meat. We get cancer of the uterus, prostate, breast, and, especially, colon from the carcinogens in meat, and that's only one small part of the health problems we see that show that humans can get away with eating only tiny quantities of animal flesh and excretions, although I'm not sure why we would want to eat any at all.


c) A non-vegetarian diet has more health benefits.

Name even one! Non-vegetarian diets are linked to diabetes, cancer, strokes, high blood pressure, Alzheimer's, low energy, ear infections, stomach ailments, the works! Studies show that vegetarians have huge advantages in avoiding these complaints; keep their arteries, sinuses, and intestines working well; and live, on an average, seven years longer than non-vegetarians. Athletes – including tennis stars Novak Djokovic and the Williams sisters, Formula 1 champ Lewis Hamilton, long-distance runner Rich Roll, and so on – are turning to veganism for stamina and easier recovery from injury.


d) But it's part of my culture/ my freedom of choice.

Lots of things have previously been part of people's cultures, but that doesn't automatically make them right. Sati – the burning of widows on a funeral pyre with their dead husbands – and even human sacrifice were once part of the culture in India, but these practices have been outlawed, thank goodness. In parts of the world, from the Middle East to the US, human slavery was once part of the culture but is illegal today. Just because some people somewhere used to do something doesn't makes it right. Practices that harm others should end. This kind of "culture" is wrong. You have freedom of choice to a point, but just as you should not choose to burn your neighbours' house down because they annoy you or to press the emergency stop switch on a train for fun, you should not harm and kill others because you want to test your cosmetics on them, eat them, drink the milk that belongs to their babies, or steal their skin.



4. Tell us what you think is wrong with the milk industry?

Aside from the fact that no adults naturally drink their own mother's milk, let alone the milk of a mother from another species, which makes it a really odd habit that nature did not intend – and forgetting the drugs used on the cattle, which are passed on to anyone who consumes their milk – the dairy industry today is mostly factory farming, which means filth, cruelty, and environmental damage. This is clear from PETA India's videos, which are enough to make you chuck the cheese and cancel the curd – and kiss your sinus and digestive problems goodbye in the process. There are plenty of other things to eat and drink, including milks and cheeses made from soy, almond, or coconut.


5. Did your childhood in India play a role in inspiring you to found an organisation like PETA? If so, how?

Absolutely! My childhood in India was a huge influence – it really directed my life. A disciple of Rabindranath Tagore came to my school in Kodaikanal and made a deep impression on me that did not resurface for many years, until my teenage interest in boys and the latest music and fashion had subsided. He advised all us little girls to stop obsessing about material things and realise that we had another side to us. He told us that the trees, streams, and other living beings were more important – and that safeguarding them, respecting them and admiring their wonder, revelling in the beauty and cleverness of all forms of life, was more important. He was right. Today, I see the "me" in all others.


6. What would you consider the number one most pressing concern when it comes to the ethical treatment of animals and animal welfare today?

The number one concern for me is the normalisation of the unthinkable. How many people blithely accept the abuse and slaughter of other living beings who feel joy, pain, fear, and love, just as we do, without a thought, without realising that if they buy chicken tikka or add milk to a meal or put leather shoes on their feet, they are paying someone to cause great suffering to another individual who is a mother, a child, who wanted to stay alive and be free and happy, just as we do.


7.  What is the one animal welfare cause that is closest to your heart/ that you are most passionate about?

Leather, because I have stood in slaughterhouses and watched workers slit goats', bullocks', and other animals' throats, and I know that their skin is worth more to the butcher's bosses than their flesh is, so whenever someone chooses a purse, sandals, a belt, or a jacket made of leather, they are paying for an atrocity. And whether it's rubber chappals, fancy-pants heels, high-fashion "suede" boots (made of vegan leather, of course), or Rungg's embroidered pumps that have everyone staring at your feet in awe, this guide has it all.


8. Tell us a few small, practical changes our readers can make in their daily lives that can help make the world a better place for animals.

First, everyone eats, and in India particularly, it's as easy as pie to choose from a wealth of vegan foods. I never eat better than in India – and I eat well as a vegan everywhere in the world, from Ethiopia to Spain to the US! Indian vegan food is the tastiest on the planet, bar none.


Second, everyone (except some sadhus!) wears clothes. So dress like someone who cares and choose animal-friendly everything – from gorgeous silk-free saris to swanky Western wear. My favourite designer is Anita Dongre, winner of a PETA Compassionate Business Award and the woman who dressed Kate, Duchess of Cambridge and future queen.


Third, look for the "cruelty-free" logo on all cosmetics and homeware or buy natural Ayurvedic products, and then you know nobody poured that stuff down rabbits' throats or smeared it into their eyes in some phoney "safety" test that proves only that archaic tests still exist.


Fourth, and this is important, never ride an animal or go to a temple or festival that uses real elephants. Most are suffering terribly from lameness caused by standing, chained, on concrete, and many are blind. All are trained by beating and only "perform" and "behave" out of fear of that ankus you see in the mahout's hand.


9.  Does the cruelty you witness against animals affect how you feel towards human beings?

Yes, I am disappointed and saddened by humankind's inhumanity to all forms of life, by our obliviousness and lack of thought and compassion, because no matter what religion we practice, kindness seems to me to be the most important religion of all. On the other hand, everywhere I go in the world, I meet kind people who go out of their way to stop abuse, to speak up, to help others find a kind path, to put aside prejudice and disrespect for others, and to replace that with love and understanding for all.


10. Which celebrities (Indian and international) have been most helpful and supportive in your fight for animal rights?

The top celebrity is one of our honorary directors, Pamela Anderson, who was in India for a show a few years ago. She always helps animals no matter which country she is in, and she is currently getting animals out of circuses in France and whales out of captivity in Russia. John Abraham is one of my favourite stars because he was the first to help PETA India, by pointing out that no one should keep wild birds in cages. (Call us if you need help getting one released!) Otherwise, there's Anushka Sharma, who starred in an ad campaign advocating vegetarianism; her husband, the cricketer Virat Kohli, who called for the release of Malti the elephant; Raveena Tandon, for helping us with several campaigns, from speaking up against the atrocities of the exotic-skins trade to encouraging people to adopt community dogs and cats; R Madhavan, Richa Chadha, Esha Gupta, Shahid Kapoor, and Kartik Aaryan, for wooing their fans with ads promoting vegetarianism; Jacqueline Fernandez, for helping us with the campaign to end cosmetics testing on animals; Madhuri Dixit Nene, who has always been there for animals, whether she's calling for the release of a captive elephant, rescuing birds in distress, or adopting a homeless dog.



11.  How would you encourage more people to start using vegan brands and beauty products? Share a few of your favourite vegan brands.

Fashion is supposed to be fun, not grisly. Yet cows' throats are slit for leather, snakes are skinned while still conscious, foxes are electrocuted on fur farms, rabbits' fur is ripped out – often while they are still alive – for angora wool, and sheep are kicked and beaten by wool-industry workers. These are just a few horrendous examples of the ways that animals suffer for fashion. People "indulge" in leather, exotic skins, or silk only because they still don't know about the cruelty inflicted on animals to procure these materials – and they are not aware of the numerous cruelty-free vegan fashion options available on the market. But they do have a choice. Today, luxurious, high-quality, high-tech non-animal leather, mock croc, faux (pronounced "foe") fur, synthetic shearling, and more are available. There are countless styles of non-leather shoes, clothing, belts, bags, and wallets. In fact, many products that look like leather are actually made of vegan leather. Just check the label for those magic words – "all man-made materials" or "synthetic" – or ask the shop assistant.


PETA India also has a list of companies that have signed up to use its "PETA-Approved Vegan" logo. Kanabis, Beyond Skin, The Alternate, and Veruschka, to name just a few, make amazing vegan shoes, while Hamelin, Baggit, and Broke Mate are some of the many brands that make fabulous vegan bags and wallets.


And who doesn't love The Body Shop? Its beauty products are completely cruelty-free. Brands like The Nature's Co, Omved Therapies, and Disguise Cosmetics are pretty fantastic, too!


12.  Is it true that there is something extremely unusual and interesting stipulated in your will. Tell us more about it.

I almost died in a plane crash, and afterwards, I decided to make a will leaving my body to PETA and its affiliates. My pointing finger will be used to direct people's attention to some atrocity that they can stop, like the abuse of the poor elephants at Amer Fort; my ears will go to Canada to help the government hear the screams of the baby seals being killed for their fur; my liver will be sent to France to be used to persuade people not to accept the force-feeding of geese to make foie gras; my skin will be made into leather purses; and my flesh will be roasted with onions so that people will come by, drawn by the smell, and then find out it's me and read the slogan on the sign that says, "We Are All Flesh and Blood. Go Vegan!"