I'm a cattle rancher, but an anti-meat organization, PETA, is one of my favorite organizations, providing comic relief from my work on dismal winter days when beef prices are dropping like the wind chill. Whenever I lose my sense of humor, along comes those madcap People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, trying to make me jobless with another cockeyed campaign.
PETA schemes have netted enough bucks to employ a public-relations firm that frequently mails me slick new solicitation brochures. I return the literature, politely explaining my views and their errors in reasoning and evidence. I'm a "nature writer" and by PETA logic, regard for the environment equals vegetarian. So, despite the time I take to communicate directly, I remain on the mailing list. Entertained by this proof of their myopic view, I work with renewed enthusiasm.
After months of whining about discrimination, PETA recently launched a national ad campaign designed to insult everybody. The group erected (wink-wink) an anti-meat billboard with carnal (elbow jab) insinuations in South Dakota, my home state. We'd say PETA shot itself in both feet, but it's (heh heh) shooting blanks.
The billboard shows a bulbous girl wearing a teensy American flag bikini waving a string of sausages (get it?). Pictured head to mid-thigh, carrying more cholesterol than a range-fed cow, she thrusts her pelvis forward, belly button invisible in lard. The text reads: "I threw a party but the cattlemen (snicker) couldn't come." This fourth-grade humor is explained, in case you missed the point: "Eating meat can cause impotence. Call my hotline at 1-900-get-on-up." (Heh heh). Prostitutes I've known would call it trashy. Appropriately, PETA has posted it in men's restrooms.
One local rancher retorted, "All I can say is I eat a lot of meat, and I've got four kids." Wanda Blair, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, citing a Stanford University study, noted that an amino acid in beef enhances circulation, "resulting in improved erections." The South Dakota Cattlemen's Association president wished the billboard owner a "nice night on the town," meaning, hereabouts, a steak dinner.
The real issue isn't the ad content. After all, PETA campaigns usually resemble sets built by film studios for Western movies: an authentic-looking front propped up by flimsy 2x4s. Accepting the facade, people may overlook the simplistic and dangerous attitude sustaining it. The ad panders to a gang rape mentality, humiliates women and reduces men to sex objects. Columnist Roy Franscell noted in the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune that PETA's notion of "ethical treatment" apparently stops well below humans on the food chain. I concur.
Further, PETA shows no regard for the sign's impact on the small, conservative community where it appears. Are hotline volunteers standing by to explain the innuendoes to school children? The ad suggests cattle raisers are men, offending not only rural women but, I should think, female PETA members. How do veterans organizations like that flag bikini?
Perhaps PETA's main goal was to provoke a violent confrontation, like those it has fomented elsewhere, to grab national headlines. Do these vegetarian vandals really believe that strategy produces an informed membership?
I'm proud my fellow Dakota ranchers appreciate the ludicrous value of PETA enough to leave the sign alone. The ranching business is tough, and we have reasons to be short-tempered. Developers on bulldozers are renaming roadside pastures as "Rushmore View Ranchettes" to install "modular homes" tin boxes without insulation or foundations. Speeders throw out trash and cigarette butts that start grass fires. That sucking sound is a nearby city slurping up groundwater. PETA propaganda is just another challenge to folks who are really trying to preserve the West.
But we all need comedy, so I hope PETA resurrects the ad I enjoyed most. With her arm around the neck of a bony old Holstein, singer k.d. lang soulfully informed us she'd given the cow a good home so no one would eat her. Holsteins are bred for milk, not meat, and sold by dairy farmers who are not ranchers the minute their production drops. So humans don't eat them, though they may end up in dog food if they're ground fine and boiled a week. Poor k.d. has probably never tasted a good steak, but if she wants to spend her hard-earned money on rest homes for aging Holsteins, I'll still appreciate her music. Like PETA, she provides great entertainment. (Linda Hasselstrom is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News, based in Paonia, Colo., www.hcn.org. She writes and ranches in western South Dakota.)