Ingrid Newkirk is the cofounder and president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the world’s largest animal rights organization. Newkirk began PETA in 1980 to provide information on vegetarianism and consumer products produced without harm to animals and has remained committed to its work.
PETA’s campaigns to save animals are legendary and in some cases quite controversial. Aside from ongoing activities like providing vegetarian starter kits, producing programs that give students alternatives to animal dissection, and lobbying government agencies in support of animal-friendly policies, PETA has also run dramatic advertising campaigns including one in which famous actresses appeared clad only in vegetables as part of the “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” campaign, and another in an anti-dairy campaign where former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who had prostate cancer, was pictured on a billboard with a milk moustache, under the headline, “Got Prostate Cancer?”
Newkirk is someone with revolutionary ideas who recognizes that small changes are better than none, and that these small changes gradually accumulate. Her new book, Making Kind Choices: Everyday Ways to Enhance Your Life Through Earth- and Animal-Friendly Living, consists of several dozen short chapters, each of which highlights a particular animal-related issue (such as how to recognize animal ingredients in packaged foods, how to find cosmetics not tested on animals, how to travel safely with animals, how to bake a vegan cake, and why some people choose not to wear wool or silk). Each chapter offers resources (books, websites, and more) for those who wish to further educate themselves.
In this interview with Daniel Redwood, Newkirk tells how she went from being a meat eater to a vegan who neither eats nor wears any animal products. It’s a fascinating story of a woman with a mission, one who does not shy away from controversy or confrontation and who has been able to reach millions with her message. The number of animals whose lives have been saved or improved through her efforts is incalculable.
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DANIEL REDWOOD: Your new book, Making Kind Choices, is at its heart a book about consciousness, about being aware of what we are doing rather than living unconsciously. It’s clear that the awareness of how our actions affect animals is of the utmost importance to you. What core beliefs led you to dedicate your life to protecting animals?
INGRID NEWKIRK: I was always drawn to animals in trouble, partially because I grew up in India where the suffering of animals is very apparent. There are starving dogs on the street, and there are overloaded beasts of burden everywhere you look. And there are animals being pulled out of baskets who are emaciated and who are made to perform so that people can earn a few rupees. So it was in front of me. A second part is probably because my mother had always worked for human charities as a volunteer, and so our home was always full of people in need and she always opened our house, too, to animals in need. She used to say it doesn’t matter who suffers, but how. So I grew up in that kind of atmosphere, of worrying about those who had little or nothing. It was just part of her world. So we were always packing pills for the lepers and rolling bandages for them, stuffing toys for orphans, and feeding strays.