PETA founder speaks at Kent State Stark

Mary Jo Spletzer

Although her soft-spoken voice doesn’t give it away, Ingrid Newkirk, president and co-founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is anything but shy.

Members of the Vegetarian Club of Canton and the surrounding community had the opportunity to share a meal and hear a lecture from Newkirk on Friday at the Kent State Stark campus.

David Kidd, a 1979 Kent State graduate in finance and founder of the Vegetarian Club of Canton, said Newkirk was willing to come out because she tries as much as possible to help little groups like theirs.

“We try to have one speaker a year on animal rights just so we let everyone know it’s one of the reasons for vegetarianism,” Kidd said. “It’s not the main purpose of our club but we don’t want to not cover it because the ethical, moral and spiritual reasons for vegetarianism are just as important as the health reasons.”

After a vegetarian dinner, guests moved to a separate room in the Kent State Stark’s University Center to listen to Newkirk talk about her vision of a kinder, gentler world.

Newkirk said being vegan today is a cool thing, but it didn’t always used to be that way.

“I was asked today ‘Are you a vegan or a vegetarian?’ and I said, ‘I’m vegan’ and a lot people call that ‘pure’ vegetarian,” Newkirk said. “I don’t call it that because it sounds as if you have to go to church and you can’t drink and that would cripple my lifestyle terribly because in my work you sometimes need something to comfort you, and it’s not necessarily church.”

Newkirk said PETA works on serious issues but they also like to have some fun.

“People say if you can make someone smile you’ve come a long way and so we work hard on that, on pushing the envelope,” Newkirk said. “That’s our job.”

Newkirk talked about the Lettuce Ladies, women who go out into communities all over the world in lettuce bikinis to raise awareness against animal cruelty.

“When there was the gas crisis, the Lettuce Ladies went out to the gas pumps and agreed they would pump five dollars worth of gas free for people if they would eat a veggie burger,” Newkirk said. “And of course while the Lettuce Lady is pumping the gas she gives them all these facts about what’s wrong with a meat- and dairy-based diet and she grabs their attention.”

Newkirk said PETA uses gimmicks to garner attention for the organization’s cause.

She talked about the controversial commercial PETA produced for the Super Bowl, which was banned from the broadcast.

“One of the things that we do is use sex, because guess what – sex sells and we have a very important message and we don’t know how else to get it into the media,” Newkirk said. “The media is like your cat, if you wiggle your finger under the door, the cat knows it’s just your finger but they can’t help but come over and have a look.

“You will have seen more nudity at any beach or in any lingerie commercial,” Newkirk said.

Newkirk ended by showing testimonials of famous vegetarians such as actor Casey Affleck, retired professional basketball player John Salley, actress Alicia Silverstone and comedian/actor Kevin Nealon.

“I’ll end by saying that I think that becoming a vegetarian is the start of a journey, it’s not the end,” Newkirk said. “I don’t think it’s enough for us to be vegetarian and leave it at that because there are too many animals, too many health problems and too many environmental issues involved for us to say I’ve done my part.”

Contact regional campuses reporter Mary Jo Spletzer at [email protected].