“Get a job!” a passerby yelled to a woman holding a sign on State Street. Only, she wasn’t homeless or asking for money. The sign she held read “Meat is Murder,” and the woman was one of eight PETA members out to protest cruelty against animals in front of Paseo Nuevo mall on Thursday, October 22. “I have one!” she countered, “I just believe in this.” Although a few of the PETA activists were Santa Barbarans, others were from Los Angeles, and one PETA employee even flew in from the Virginia headquarters to participate in this year’s protest. Two other PETA Members held identical signs in front of the main attraction: two side-by-side cardboard trays containing a nearly naked female PETA member in each. The women were covered in fake blood and a layer of cellophane. The labels on top of their packages read “FLESH” and the price per pound.
Remaining PETA members stood in front and to the side of the demonstration, handing out thin PETA publications to passersby: Vegetarian Starter Kit contained quotes from doctors and others about the health benefits of a vegetarian diet as well as vegetarian and vegan recipes. The little ‘zine also included facts about the meat industry and factory farms. For instance, to quote the handout, “There is not a single federal law that protects farmed animals in animal farms.”
“PETA is here today with a startling image,” said campaign coordinator Amanda Fortino, “to remind people that : all animals have the same capacity to feel pain and terror like humans do : and anyone who doesn’t want to support the killing and horrific abuse that goes on in slaughterhouses and factory farms simply needs to stop eating animals.” Fortino has only worked for PETA for a year, but has been a member and supporter for years.
A local woman who eats meat agreed that PETA presented a “startling image.” She stepped forth from onlookers to converse with the activists about her own beliefs: “I just want to share my sentiments,” she began. “When I see the word ‘flesh,’ I think of human flesh and cannibalism, not meat, which is bred for food, and which I need for my own nourishment.” Fortino and PETA member Monique Lukens listened to the woman and, responding in kind, civilly shared their beliefs with her as well. They said they believe that animals have feelings, too; and that vegetarian and vegan meal options are actually healthier for people than meat. Eating meat is the number one cause of colon cancer, according to PETA.
“It’s pretty unsightly, though, you guys,” the woman who stopped to converse with the PETA group commented before walking on down State Street. Lukens was not displeased by the interaction. “At least she stopped to share,” Fortino commented, “and we were able to share our beliefs with her, too.” Lukens described reactions the Meat Package Tour received in our community as “mixed,” both negative and positive. She said many people accepted the flyer and were curious about vegetarian ideals, recipes, and lifestyle, but others were offended. “Let’s go grab a steak!” I heard one man say loudly to his wife after reading the signs and looking at the bloodied, packaged women.
The packaged women emerged from their cellophane container after about an hour, and other PETA members gave them blankets for warmth and coverage. When asked how she felt in the package, Melissa Sehgal, who has volunteered with PETA for eight years, traveling all over the country for the Meat Package demonstration, commented, “It was cold in there, and hard to breathe, but it’s nothing compared to what the animals go through.”
After L.A. and before Fresno, Santa Barbara was the second stop on the PETA tour.