Detroit Water Debt as PETA’s Latest P.R. Platform


After the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department cut off water service to 17,000 households with overdue bills, and a thousand protesters took to the streets, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) announced they’d pay water bills for ten residents who sign a pledge, by August 1, to eat as vegans for a month.

Now it’s good that PETA president Ingrid Newkirk is talking about avoiding animal agribusiness (PETA often just presses McDonald’s and others to have animals killed in particular ways). And Newkirk is right about vegans saving water. According to Dr. Richard A. Oppenlander, author of Comfortably Unaware: Global Depletion and Food Responsibility (2011), if you’re consuming animal products, you use some 315,000 gallons of water per year, and it’s only matter of time before governments start restricting animal farming in order to secure fresh water supplies.

That said, does anyone else get the sinking feeling that with PETA, water stress is just the latest shtick?

The ten recipients will also get gift baskets containing vegan-friendly foods and a recipe book. It’s so much like the group’s “treats for the troops” campaign—during the deployment of the USS Truman to Afghanistan, PETA regaled military personnel with vegan cookies and pictures of a “PETA pin-up girl” hoping to “turn the troops on to vegetarianism”—that it comes off more absurd than helpful to the vegan cause.

Moreover, the president of PETA, who frequently undertakes book tours and turns up at events in Europe, likely has a larger environmental footprint than a cash-strapped person in Detroit. A little introspection is in order. Instead, Detroit’s people are offered water on PETA’s terms, if they enter a contest only a few can win.

There are sound ideas and resources for growing food crops in Detroit’s own community. PETA could simply support them rather than having people nominate themselves for goody bags shipped from out of state. PETA could also offer no-strings-attached help with water bills, as others have stepped up to do. Detroit residents seeking direct help paying for water should be shown this information.

People who can’t pay for basic water services are vulnerable and desperate. PETA is too out of touch to understand that this campaign taunts them—or too attention-hungry to care.

Lee Hall, a teacher of environmental, immigration, and animal law, has worked in the non-profit advocacy sector, and is a long-term vegan. Follow Lee on Twitter: @Animal_Law 

Lee Hall is an author of  On Their Own Terms: Bringing Animal-Rights Philosophy Down to Earth and several other books and articles on animal rights, a contingent professor of environmental, immigration, and animal law, and a contingent employee of the U.S. Postal Service. Follow Lee on Twitter: @Animal_Law 

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