By: Herwin Walravens
Ingrid Newkirk is the co founder and current president of the world’s largest animal rights organization, PETA. She has written several books, including “Making Kind Choices”, “Free the Animals” (an adventure story), and “The PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights - Simple Acts of Kindness to Help Animals in Trouble” available on the PETA website shop and on Amazon.
Ingrid Newkirk Trivia
- As a child Ingrid helped her mother who was a volunteer for Mother Theresa, and for a leper colony in New Delhi, India.
- Ingrid was a passionate meat eater. Her favorite dish was raw steak with capers.
- Ingrid’s longtime passions are Formula One racing and sumo wrestling.
- PETA was founded by Ingrid Newkirk and 5 other people in March 1980.
- PETA’s first undercover investigation, known as the Silver Spring Monkeys case, led to the first police raid in the United States on an animal research laboratory.
- PETA’s main issues are animals used for food, clothing, in experiments, in entertainment.
- PETA currently has more than 3 million members.
- PETA has over 300 full time employees.
PETA cares passionately about are the tangible results of their many campaigns and undercover investigations which expose the cruelty of animal factories and encourage people to go vegan.
Q1. How did you inform yourself three decades ago when there was no internet?
It was a different world without the internet to help spread information about animal rights, and we relied on word of mouth, presentations, books, photographs and scientific research to learn about the exploitation that our animal friends. Instead of hitting “search” on Google, we drove to the library or called up experts on the phone.
Q2. Why did you become vegan?
Until I was 20 or so, although I loved animals, I hadn’t considered not eating them. It wasn’t until 1970, when my then husband and I were living in Maryland and I was studying to become a stockbroker. A neighbor abandoned some kittens. I decided to take them to an animal shelter. This was a life changing-experience for me and led to my first job working on behalf of animals—cleaning kennels and investigating cruelty cases. Peter Singer's book Animal Liberation and my experiences in that job and later on—including finding a pig left to starve on a farm—made me realize that all animals are living beings like us, with emotions, with the ability to feel pain and joy, and that not eating them was a vital step if we wanted to work to end their suffering .
Q3. How did your family and friends react?
My family and friends were concerned, but once they realized that this was not a phase or something I would tire of, and once I had asked each of them individually, privately, to please be a friend, to be a loving relative, to support me, not to make it more difficult, or to harass or tease me, then they were helpful. Even in those days, I was able to wow them with delicious meat- and dairy-free dishes and desserts (rich and creamy chocolate pie made with silken tofu was possible even back then!).
Q4. What can a single person do to speak out for the animals?
It’s so easy to do a million useful things to help animals. That’s why I wrote the book Making Kind Choices and why PETA puts all the “What You Can Do” calls to action on our websites. Mahatma Gandhi said “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” No matter how much time you can spare every day or week, there are important everyday things you can do to create positive change in our world for animals. First, every choice you make, every penny you spend, every educational opportunity with friends, colleagues, family, are there for you to seize. Your behavior and your voice are vital: cook for others and give them food so they can see how tasty vegan food is; if there is a gift-giving opportunity, then choose to give cruelty-free toiletries or cosmetics, or foods, or a video with a positive animal message, even a subscription to an animal magazine.
Use social media to spread the word. Include Glass Walls by Paul McCartney or a new PETA poster of a celebrity who will not wear fur to your email signature. Send around information you find on the PETA website to interest friends and ask their opinions. Show a video to school children. Speak up against cruelty when you see or hear of it. Only buy products that are not tested in rabbits’ eyes and tell the companies why you are not buying the others you used to. Call TV stations if you see something wrong or right.
The opportunities are endless: you can write letters about animal issues to the editor of your local newspaper; volunteer with an animal shelter, established animal protection group, or vegetarian/vegan society; post leaflets on community boards and leave them in waiting rooms; if someone in your neighborhood has a chained or cage dog, offer to take them out for walks and give them treats and a toy; and most importantly, never ever be silent when you see an animal being abused.
For more ways to get active, and to join PETA Asia’s activist network, you can check out PETAAsiaPacific.com.
Q5. PETA’s latest undercover investigation revealed how Angora wool in produced. Footage was taken on a Chinese Angora farm showing workers pulling out the hairs from live rabbits. The rabbits were in great pain and screaming. After this treatment, the bald and bleeding rabbits were put back into their small cages to wait for their hair to grow back and the suffering to be repeated.Did releasing this investigation lead to results, to improvement in the treatment of these rabbits?
When this investigation was released, it is lucky that the screams of the rabbits were heard around the world. People shared the video widely, vowed never to wear angora again, and contacted stores and designers in droves demanding that they stop buying the product. The retailers listened, and the list of stores that are making their customers and rabbits happy by banning angora is constantly growing.
Q6. What are PETA’s most successful campaigns?
Since it was founded, PETA has exposed horrific animal abuse in laboratories, leading to many firsts, including canceled funding, closed facilities, seizure and liberation of animals, and charges filed by government authorities. PETA has also closed the largest horse-slaughter operation in North America. PETA has convinced dozens of major designers and hundreds of companies to stop using fur, exotic skins from poor snakes and lizards, and even leather and certain wools. PETA has also improved the treatment of animals butchered for their flesh, ended all car-crash tests on animals, cleaned up wretched animal pounds, helped schools switch to harmless alternatives to dissection, and provided millions of people with information on vegan foods, vegan products, companion animal care and the importance of sterilization of dogs and cats to prevent homelessness, and countless other issues.
Q7. The animal industry’s reaction to the exposing of illegal animal cruelty in their own industry is baffling. Instead of trying to ban animal cruelty, they are now lobbying for new laws that criminalize whistle blowers. In their opinion it is not the animal abuser but the person who documents the cruelty who should go to jail. Please tell us more about these new “ag-gag” laws.
Anti-whistleblower or “ag gag” bills are scurrilously designed to block anyone from exposing cruelty, illegal acts, fraud, food safety issues, poor working conditions, illegal workers being hired to work as slaves, and more, by banning taking a photo or video of a factory farm without permission, banning possession and distribution of such photos or videos, making it a crime for an investigator to get work at a factory farm, or requiring mandatory reporting with impossibly short timelines so that no pattern of abuse can be documented. Instead of passing ag gag laws, legislators should be passing regulations to require cameras in all slaughterhouses and factory farms to catch the animal abusers like those whom PETA has caught in our undercover investigations.
Q8. There are still many vegetarians who eat eggs and drink milk, because supposedly no animals are killed for the production of eggs and milk. Are milk and eggs are less cruel than meat?
For a cow to produce milk, she must give birth to a calf. “Dairy” cows are impregnated every year in order to keep up a steady supply of milk. In the natural order of things, the cow’s calf would drink her milk (eliminating her need to be milked by humans). But dairy cow’s beloved babies are taken away within a day or two of birth so that humans can steal the milk that nature intended for their calves. Male dairy calves, who are not needed by the industry, are confined for months to tiny veal crates too small for them even to turn around in so that their flesh, sold as veal, will be pale, atrophied and non-muscular by the time they’re sent to the slaughterhouse on wobbly legs.
While both male and female chickens can be raised for meat, only females can produce eggs, so every year, millions of male chicks are disposed of by being shoved into plastic bags and left to struggle and suffocate. A single cage, roughly 16 by 18 inches, holds five to six hens, each with a wingspan of 32 inches. To prevent fighting, they have the ends of their sensitive beaks sliced off with a hot blade.
Remember, all these individuals, millions upon millions of them, are just that: individuals. They feel every moment of fear, or misery, they are acutely aware of each kick, of each broken wing or seared-off beak or chunk removed from their ears with an instrument and no pain relief. We can support that or not.
Q9. A while ago, thanks to PETA pressure, some McDonalds “restaurants” added a veggie burger to their menu. Are you now occasionally eating a veggie burger in McDonalds?
If it’s vegan, I’ll eat it! Some well-meaning vegans have chosen to ignore the fast-food and chain restaurant market because of its emphasis on animal flesh, but to me the bottom line is this: in order to convince meat-eaters to stop eating animals, vegetarian options must be convenient and available in the places where meat-eaters munch. There will never be vegan or vegetarian options at restaurant chains unless vegetarians and vegans support them. And to show big corporations that there’s money to be made by selling vegan or vegetarian food, we must increase that market. I say buy them for all your friends and people you know in business or at school.
Q10. Occasionally one can hear a meat eater say that he sympathizes with veganism but that vegan food is tasteless and he couldn’t give up the taste of meat. What would you want to say to them?
There are now widely available alternatives to just about every type of meat, including chicken, pork, fish, and beef style products. There’s even mock shrimp! It is no excuse. And once you get away from meat and milk, you look back in horror that you ever put bloody flesh, and parts of an animal’s body or excretions in your mouth and thought it was good to do so. It’s amazing how bad habits become clearly bad habits after a little while! Like the Nike slogan, let’s Just Do It!
Thank you very much for this interview.
Thank you so much.