Know Thy Enemy Week #4: Advertisers

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Ask any parent: it’s nearly impossible to shield kids from the onslaught of advertising for toys and fast food. But, us adults are hit just as hard. During a random one hour of prime time television that I watched Thursday evening, there were 35 commercials. That’s an awful lot of advertising.

Though there were less food ads during that time period than I expected, there’s one thing I was right about: every single food ad featured meat. A (really annoying) Wendy’s ad that ran twice showed three salads, which is about as close to vegetarian food as a lot of people get. However, one of these three salads featured beef and the other two had chicken. There was also a Taco Bell commercial featuring a meat-heavy wrap of some sort, a Campbell’s Tomato Soup commercial that showed the soup paired with chunks of ham and layers of cheese, and a Domino’s commercial featuring a pizza 30% larger than an extra large. The pizza was, of course, topped with pepperoni and marketed towards men.

There also were a few ads for likely animal-unfriendly items like hair care and cosmetics.

The most subtle form that shows exactly how ingrained the use of animals is in our culture came during a commercial for Ask.com. In the commercial, a pair of scientists in lab coats, one holding a talking monkey, search online for a pot pie recipe. All of the results, of course, show chicken pot pie.

While I didn’t spot any ads explicitly from the meat or dairy industries, I can’t even remember the last time I saw an ad for Silk.

One of the most astounding pieces of information I’ve seen over the last few years compares the amount spent annually to promote fruits and vegetables versus the amounts spent on heavily processed junk foods, fast foods, and meat. In a report called “Out of Balance,” Consumers Union (the publisher of Consumer Reports) found that:

The $11.26 billion spent on advertising by the food, beverage, and restaurant industries in 2004 dwarfed the mere $9.55 million spent on communications for the federal and California “5 A Day” programs to encourage eating 5 or more servings of fruit and vegetables each day. Industry expenditures for food, beverage and fast food advertising, thus, are 1,178 times greater than the budgets for the California and federal 5 A Day campaigns. In this context, it is no wonder that healthful dietary messages from government, parents and others are barely audible.

(Emphasis mine.)

This is another one of those situations where it’s difficult to work with the enemy because there’s just no money in marketing vegetables. The Carrot Industry (you know, the people that go to the International Carrot Conference) doesn’t have the money to spend to get their information in front of kids and their parents the way the National Cattlemen’s Association does. The best that we can hope for on any large scale is when a company like Silk gets absorbed by a larger corporation and gets enough of a boost to be able to get a couple of ads on morning TV.

I used to think that advertising was a waste of resources for groups like Compassion Over Killing. Shouldn’t they be using that money to gather more undercover footage or something? But the fact is, mainstream America never sees that footage, no matter how readily accessible it is. And while it’s vitally important that we continue on with these types of activism, things like advertising on MTV and in magazines may be just as important when it comes to helping raise awareness about vegetarian diets and animal exploitation. While the Superbowl consistently denies PETA’s ads, even advertising on a smaller scale can cause a difference and plant a seed in the head of someone who wouldn’t take it upon themselves to search out the same information on their own.

It’s funny how animal rights people are always being accused of “pushing their agenda,” but it doesn’t take a genius to see that the food industries are spending a whole lot more time and money pushing their agendas each and every day.

Know Thy Enemy Week #3: Anti-AR Activists

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The last couple of days, we’ve focused on large companies or organizations with significant financial resources that are using their money to denounce comparatively pauper-like animal rights groups. Today, though, we go to the other end of the spectrum and look at individuals who hold some sort of grudge against animal rights advocates, people that feel strongly enough that they start a web site to attack AR groups and activists.

Let’s take a moment to consider what could drive an individual to take the time out of their life to specifically work against animals and activities meant to protect them. The way I figure it, there are a few forces that could be at play:

  • They feel threatened by the work of animal rights advocates and feel that their own “rights” (the right to eat meat, the right to wear fur, the right to hunt) are being infringed upon. I wonder if these people start sites of a way to justify their own beliefs even more than to further a cause.
  • They’ve been personally attacked by strong-armed AR tactics in the past. Maybe back in the 90s they were walking out of Saks Fifth Avenue wearing a fur coat and someone with PETA threw red paint on them. This type of person harbors a resentment at being singled out and physically attacked for something they believe or wear and they want to fight back.
  • They genuinely hate animals. I suspect that this group is quite small. Most people can feel at least some sort of compassion and see the importance that groups like PETA and HSUS play in animal welfare.

From what I’ve seen on anti-AR sites, members of the first group (or at least people who I think fit that profile) are the most prevalent. They get members of the second group on their side by focusing less on the actual cause of animal protection and more on the “outrageous” things that advocates may do in the name of the cause. They won’t acknowledge the work that PETA does to help homeless companion animals but they’ll jump all over the PETA Kills Puppies bandwagon. They’ll attack any comparisons to factory farms and the Holocaust, but won’t think for a second that it’s not the victims that are being compared, but the act of victimization.

Looking at this list shows that there are a pretty significant number of these sites out there. Not all sites on that list are still alive and some of them are meat industry sites, but a good chunk are maintained by individuals that just hate animal rights activists and, in some cases, the actual animal rights cause.

The sites with discussion forums can be particularly frustrating to read because a lot of times, a lack of compassion and understanding is masked by a facade of logic. Often, the tone is more of “look, the wackos are at it again” rather than “I can understand their reasons, but disagree with their methods and here’s why.” Thankfully, I’ve seen a number of AR folks participate in discussions on the forums, so every so often there is an actual exchange of ideas.

I’d like to think that even if the people that run and participate in these sites are on the other side of the fence, they’re still in the same pasture. The fact they go through so much effort shows that they’re at least thinking about the issue. Perhaps if there are enough thoughtful arguments presented, enough positive action being taken, then people that are vehemently anti-AR can begin to understand where we’re coming from.

Change isn’t likely to come by trying to convert everyone into a hemp-loving soy-eating vegan. Real change will come when it becomes impossible for the average person to deny the underlying importance of animal liberation and can no longer put their own pleasures and desires ahead of those that suffer as a result.

links for 2006-04-05

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Know Thy Enemy Week #2: The Center for Consumer Freedom

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How could anyone ever be against a group named the Center for Consumer Freedom, right? Consumer Freedom is good! And a Center that promotes, therefore, has to be good!

Of course, the Center for Consumer Freedom has very little with giving people the right to choose and everything with lobbying against animal rights groups and giving more power to the groups that back the CCF. Groups like Monsanto, Tyson’s Foods, and Outback Steakhouse… not exactly groups that are known for their corporate responsibility.

In fact, the CCF was founded by Berman & Co, a public affairs organization owned by Rick Berman, a lobbyist who has represented the tobacco industry as well as many in the food industry. The CCF has attacked everyone from the American Medical Association to the National Association of High School Principals, pretty much anyone that says anything that might work against a company in an industry that funds them. And boy oh boy do they love the terms “food police” and “lunatics.”

Much of their vitriol comes out against animal rights and vegetarian groups. Indeed, a quick look at the current content on their web site shows of the 18 stories and deep links on their front page, 10 of them are directly related to animal rights groups like PETA and the HSUS. Did you know that PETA is a threat to your children? Apparently so!

Interestingly, some of their content sounds like things I’ve said around here. Two of their three most recent headlines are about celebrities PETA has claimed are vegetarian but really aren’t (remember what I said) and other links on their site talk about the attack on obesity (I don’t like veg marketing that attacks fat people — it amounts to an unnecessary personal attack on someone’s value as a human while just assuming that fat = eating nothing but huge slabs of steak). However, my concern stems from my desire to see a compassionate animal rights philosophy spread without being overshadowed by sensational things like celebrity or “obesity epidemics” whereas the CCF is more likely interested in promoting the agendas of the fast food industry and attacking PETA for what I like to call “minor infractions of stupidity.”

So what can we do to find common ground with the CCF? I don’t think there’s anything. The industry’s influence runs deep.

But, it’s essential that we make people aware who’s behind the CCF. Every time they’re quoted in the newspaper (and they’re quoted often), we should write a letter to the editor or tell a friend that’s reading the article that the CCF isn’t the group it appears to be. Point them towards any of the numerous groups exposing the truth.