It has officially been a year since I've purchased shoes made with leather. I didn't really mean for it to happen, but it did. I'm always quick to clarify that I'm not a vegan; I merely follow a whole food plant-based diet. My car has leather seats and I haven't micro-managed the ingredients of all my cosmetics to see if they happen to contain animal products cleverly disguised as scientific-sounding names. In fact, I say I'm "99% vegan" since I almost always have a piece of cake at weddings. After all, every southern belle knows it would just be rude to say no and offend the bride!
Over past five years my compassion towards animals has grown. What started as a way to maintain my healthy weight has transformed into a world view. As a physician, I see so much suffering in humans. I have been awakened to the amount of human morbidity and mortality that can be traced back to either the consumption of animal products or infectious diseases that began from the practice of containing animals for farming. Any good scientist methodically traces back the steps of a process to the source. Again and again, my journey has ended in a food (and drug) industry which overwhelmingly commits atrocities to animals.
When I purchased the vegan tote bag to donate to the American Heart Association purse auction from the PETA website, I decided it only made sense to add $16 to my purchase to join PETA. My very first "Vegetarian Starter Kit" was from PETA so I felt I owed them at least a $16 thank you for providing me with such early motivation and recipes. I continued to browse around their web retail store. I'm no Madeline Albright, but I like having a lapel pin on my white coat. I usually wear a teal ribbon for ovarian cancer awareness, but when I saw the tiny blue PETA bunny pin I couldn't resist. I added it to my cart along with a "Go Vegan" pennant for the kids playroom and a "Kale Yeah I'm Vegan" tank top. As an aside, I'll be proudly sporting my new tank at Wanderlust in Aspen this weekend. So should any readers be in attendance, I'll be easy to spot!
The pin is adorable and I've received many questions and compliments since I started wearing it. The most surprising comment occurred while making rounds at the hospital when a nurse complimented my Heifer pin. Without going on a vegan-soapbox rampage, I gently thanked her for the compliment and explained it was a PETA bunny, not a Heifer heifer. Oh the paradox that two organizations could both be represented by leaping animals (which to the nurse's credit, are amazingly similar in form) but have such different agendas!
Out of curiosity, especially since Heifer International is headquartered here in Little Rock, I thought I might share a comparison of these two organizations. Caveat emptor--this information is likely to evoke very strong opinions and emotions. I understand that by blogging on vegsource.com, I am essentially preaching to the vegan/vegetarian choir. I'm not proclaiming that all the goals of each organization are either flawless or entirely flawed (and please refrain from commenting that no indigenous culture has ever been entirely vegan...). Deep down, I believe that any organization dedicated to end human suffering is good. The rhetorician in me also knows that it takes an honest inspection of every perspective to build the strongest argument to support my cause. Shall we begin?
PETA: Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any way.
Heifer International: To work with communities to end world hunger and poverty and to care for the Earth
PETA: Founded in March 1980 by Ingrid Newkirk and fellow animal rights activist Alex Pacheco as an organization "dedicated to establishing and defending the rights of all animals" through educating the public, policymakers, and industry internationally about ending animal abuse and promoting the kind treatment of animals. Their core principles center on the rights of all beings capable of suffering--both human and non-human--and allowing those beings to lead their own lives free from harm, cruelty, or exploitation.
Heifer International: Founded in 1944 by Midwestern farmer Dan West. While serving as a relief aid in the Spanish Civil War as a member of the Church of the Brethren, he realized that the food rations to refugees were insufficient. Specifically citing the single cup of milk provided per day, he thought, "what if they had not a cup, but a cow?"
IN THEIR WORDS--WHAT THEY DO:
PETA (from www.PETA.org): "PETA focuses its attention on the four areas in which the largest numbers of animals suffer the most intensely for the longest periods of time: on factory farms, in the clothing trade, in laboratories, and in the entertainment industry. We also work on a variety of other issues, including the cruel killing of beavers, birds, and other "pests" as well as cruelty to domesticated animals. PETA works through public education, cruelty investigations, research, animal rescue, legislation, special events, celebrity involvement, and protest campaigns."
Heifer International (from www.Heifer.org): "We empower families to turn hunger and poverty into hope and prosperity - but our approach is more than just giving them a handout. Heifer links communities and helps bring sustainable agriculture and commerce to areas with a long history of poverty. Our animals provide partners with both food and reliable income, as agricultural products such as milk, eggs and honey can be traded or sold at market.When many families gain this new sustainable income, it brings new opportunities for building schools, creating agricultural cooperatives, forming community savings and funding small businesses."
PETA: The "Silver Spring Monkey Case" put PETA on the map in 1981 when the newsworthy police raid on this Maryland behavioral research animal lab made history. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court and eventually led to the 1985 amendment to the Animal Welfare Act.
Heifer International: Their work is exemplified in the book Beatrice's Goat by Page McBrier. This true story describes how a goat from Heifer International led to changing the life of a girl from Uganda forever.
VIEWS ON COWS:
PETA: "Cows are smart, social, and sensitive."
PETA has raised critical awareness of literally every step of meat and dairy industry practices. Their solution to end the suffering and slaughter of over 42 million cows in the United States is a vegan diet and not purchasing consumer goods made from leather. The PETA website recently promoted the new Kip Andersen film Cowspiracy .
Heifer International: "Cows are so awesome."
The Heifer idea of the "7 Ms" has sustained the organization for nearly 70 years and explains "how an animal can be a catalyst for so much change." The "7 Ms" are milk, manure, meat, muscle, money, materials and motivation.
PETA: In order to attend and speak at annual meetings, as well as submit shareholder resolutions asking for policy changes, PETA purchased common stock in Sea World when 20 million shares were released for public offering.
Heifer International: Since 2008, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded Heifer International over $50 million in grants to help rural East African farmers increase production of raw milk to sell to dairies.
Heifer International: $114,895,230
CHARITY NAVIGATOR SCORE:
PETA: Overall 42.38/70 (2 stars), Financial 39.99 (1 star), Accountability & Transparency 45.0 (2 stars)
Heifer International: Overall 46.94/70 (2 stars), Financial 37.53 (1 star), Accountability & Transparency 67.0 (4 stars)
2013 LEADERSHIP COMPENSATION:
PETA: President Ingrid Newkirk $40,320
Heifer International: CEO Pierre Ferrari $284,371
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
PETA: Of course you can join for a donation of $16. Then you can begin by taking the PETA Activist Quiz at http://www.peta.org/action/activism-guide/your-animal-saving-style-quiz/ to learn more about your animal-saving style
Heifer International: Start by signing up for their emails. Then browse their gift catalog at http://www.heifer.org/gift-catalog/index.html#panel to learn more about donating an animal, empowering women, or promoting sustainable farming.