What follows is the full correspondence, plus my reply.
We noticed you recently commented on one of PETA's job descriptions and wanted to give you some more information about why we require the "adherence to a vegetarian lifestyle" for certain positions. Picture this: You attend a lecture by a traveling representative from an environmental organization and are so moved that you follow her outside, hoping to thank her for the inspiration—only to see her climb into a Hummer and speed away in a fetid cloud of exhaust.
Might make you lose a bit of your zeal for protecting the planet.
So it should hardly come as a surprise that, for PETA, it wouldn't make any more sense to send someone out there to explain why adopting a vegetarian diet is the best thing anyone can do for animals, our own health, and the environment—and then be spotted chowing down on a cheeseburger.
To be clear, though most of our staffers "go veg" voluntarily—not all of our job openings require applicants to be vegetarian. But it is important for employees who have direct contact with the public to clearly practice what they preach. (Speaking of which, if someone were applying for a job as pastor of a church, would he still be considered a "well-qualified candidate" if he happens to be an atheist?)
We encourage anyone who wants to know more about jobs at PETA or why we advocate a vegetarian diet to visit our Web site, www.PETA.org.
Thanks very much!
Marketing | PETA
Here was my response.
I sincerely appreciate your e-mail and would like to respond to it. As I reflect back upon my initial response to PETA's hiring practices, I would probably have been less sardonic and more objective. I do apologize for the tact I took and your professional reply reminds me that civility is the best means of resolving differences and airing grievances.
In that spirit, let me say that it is certainly important for us all to practice what we preach and I fully recognize that being an omnivore in an organization specifically geared towards animal rights (and with it a belief among many that consuming them for food constitutes cruelty) would be difficult to reconcile with the stated objective of your organization.
My beef, pardon the pun, lies mostly with PETA's tactics, which I think are exceptionally over-the-top and as such create a substantial backlash in the process. Throwing red paint on fur coats might make for sensationalist headlines, but it doesn't advance a narrative. Using very graphic instances of genuine animal cruelty in the form of ads or juxtapositions of highly emotionally charged imagery in the media to emphasize your point I think turns off as many people as it attracts to your cause. And this is why your organization draws severe criticism even in the progressive community, which should be your base of support.
When even the liberal activists I consider close friends, acquaintances, and co-workers are united in their reservations and unfavorable judgments, then I acknowledge there's more to it then simply one person's critical opinion. One of them works for a female reproductive rights non-profit and her reservations with PETA are that, in her opinion, you care more for the lives of animals than for the well-being of women. The general consensus of nearly everyone I survey is that your organization's focus is very short-sighted and doesn't take into account the larger picture. It is very tempting for any activist group to embrace a purely navel-gazing perspective while losing sight of the fact that we are all connected. In my opinion, issue activism shouldn't be a myopic experience.
My hope for PETA is that you will consider modifying your stance, otherwise you stand the risk of ending up like many activists groups with a very modest number of adherents, followers, and a group mentality that unintentionally or not, isolates and circles the wagons. In many groups I have observed, there is a regrettable tendency to feel so persecuted that any and all criticism of the status quo, much of which is constructive criticism, is automatically perceived as a destructive threat and is attacked as though the person who voices the concern means to dismantle the entire organization as a whole. Avoid that trap and rehabilitate PETA's image if you want to grow and reach a larger audience.