PETA, the animal-rights organization known for its attention-grabbing tactics designed to promote awareness of cruelty to animals and vegan diet practices, has come up with a new stunt to bring word of its cause to the public — but this one is producing even more backlash than PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has by now grown accustomed to.
In struggling Detroit, where the financially strapped city — which filed for bankruptcy a year ago — has cut off water to thousands of residents who owe unpaid bills, PETA now says it will pay off the water debts for 10 of the approximately 17,000 Detroit families who have seen their water shut off.
On one condition.
Those families must agree to eat only a vegan diet for 30 days. PETA even offers to help the process by giving each family, in addition to cash for water bills, “a basket of healthy vegan foods and recipes.”
“The last thing that people who are struggling need is increased health-care costs,” PETA’s Michelle Kretzer said in a blog post Friday. “By accepting our offer to go vegan, not only will families be getting an immediate financial boost and helping animals, if they stick with it, they’ll also lower their risk of obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and strokes.”
A vegan diet is one that not only excludes meat and fish, but all animal-related food products. Dairy products such as cheese and yogurt are not allowed on a vegan diet, nor is honey which is produced by bees.
The offer was immediately blasted as “condescending” by, among others, Deadline Detroit blogger Alan Stamm. Online reaction to a Detroit News article about the PETA offer was even more pointed.
“PETA is insane,” wrote resident Rick Surheinrich.
“This is church-level shameless proselytization,” wrote another, Sagar Keer. “Reminds me of missionaries preying on the poor in Third World countries, promising them food in exchange of conversions.”
Repulsed reactions to the PETA proposal came from all sides of the political spectrum. The progressive news site Jezebel called PETA “a******s” for the “tone deaf” offer and Think Progress, the online arm of the liberal Center For American Progress think tank, remarked, “While PETA is always on the lookout for the ethical treatment of animals, the group seems less interested in the ethical treatment of humans.”
Others, including journalist Alison Kilkenny, pointed out that many Detroit residents live in “food deserts,” that is, neighborhood with no ready access to grocery stores where they may be able to shop for fresh vegan foods — or any foods.
But PETA’s Lindsay Radjt stood by the group’s offer.
“All we’re asking is that people try something new.” she told Deadline Detroit. “Sometimes we need incentives to try something new, to skip the drive-through lane with artery-clogging fast food.”
Another group, calling itself Turn On Detroit’s Water, has mounted an online campaign to collect donations that would go toward paying Detroit residents’ water bills — no strings attached.