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From Paul McCartney to Justin Bieber; 'Hey, you can be kind! Catch this!'

28/07/2014 10:42 BST | Updated 24/09/2014 10:59 BST

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A stunning image of a drowning Joaquin Phoenix lands on my desktop, instantly catching my attention. It is a hard hitting PETA video that I know will cause me distress but I cannot help but view it.

I am captivated by the panic stricken actor, convincingly reenacting the terror that fish experience in the last moments of their lives. "Fish are smart, interesting animals with unique personalities who feel pain" says the caption and as always, I am compelled to pass PETA's message on.

Pheonix is one of many celebrities lending their name to PETA's cause, from Paul McCartney and Justin Bieber to Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin, Anjelica Huston, Ellen DeGeneres and Pink among countless others. A highly effective endorsement that has also led to the accusation of PETA being too 'glossy', a suggestion founder Ingrid Newkirk is quick to dismiss. "The idea of kindness doesn't just warrant placement in a grubby black-and-white pamphlet" she says, "it needs to be shouted in colour from the rooftops: "Hey, You Can Be Kind! Catch This!"

In the first of two interviews, PETA founder and Animal rights heroine Ingrid Newkirk reflects on science proving animals' feelings and brain power, Earthlings as part of the curriculum, Veganism and humans' addiction to cheese.

Q To what do you attribute PETA's great success?

A PETA has become a buzzword because it is not a one-issue organisation. We watch the news, jump on stories and interject animal welfare issues into everything that we possibly can, from fashion and science to dog homelessness and how pigs become pork pies. We are not shrinking violets. We say what we mean and mean what we say. We are an equal opportunity critic when someone or some industry is abusing animals.

 

Q Was there a 'trigger' to founding PETA?

A From a very early age, I loved dogs and cats and helped baby birds who had fallen from the nest, but like most people of my generation, I didn't have a clue that eating and wearing animals and buying things such as shampoo and makeup and even supporting certain forms of entertainment directly cause suffering. I finally learned from a set of experiences, including inspecting laboratories, investigating farm abuse, and finding a fox in a steel trap, that it wasn't good enough to walk dogs at the local refuge or give donations to animal-protection groups if I was simultaneously paying butchers, clothiers and others to harm and kill the very animals I cared about. I founded PETA to show behind-the-scenes abuses that very few people witness and offer kind alternatives. The response has been tremendous.

  

Q Do you see the 'man consuming animal' reality as lost cause?

A Human population statistics are frightening, especially in countries where flesh-eating and dairy consumption are rampant, but in the West, it is extremely encouraging to see that people are switching to a vegan lifestyle, including a former US president and vice president and Hollywood's finest in record numbers and that schools are embracing vegan meal lines. Vegan foods are everywhere.

 

Q Is shock an effective way to turn the 'meat eating tide'? 

A Graphic images stick with you. They change people. They need to be seen, but many people resist exposing themselves to reality. However, if they do, chances are that they'll change what they buy, so it's important that we send these images out. PETA US recently went undercover and exposed the cruelty behind the wool industry. The video footage shows workers violently punching scared sheep in the face, stamping and standing on the animals' heads and necks and beating and jabbing them in the face with electric clippers and a hammer, it's shocking but vital that people see it.

 

Q Should the shocking Earthlings be shown at high schools?

A I always tell an audience in advance of showing something upsetting - and all the video footage we have from our undercover investigations of the meat and dairy industries, leather producers, laboratories, aquariums, circuses and so on is deeply upsetting - that if they feel they can't take it, they should still not leave the room. They can look down and listen. I remind them that they need to know what they are supporting so as not to be blind consumers and that if they watch, they can also speak to others from a position of knowledge, having seen what goes on with their own eyes. I remind them, too, that as awful as it is for them to have to watch the abuse of animals, the investigators had to stand right there filming for far, far longer, sometimes for weeks and that the animals actually had to endure what they'll only be seeing.

 

Q I was surprised to learn that to many, cheese is the toughest obstacle on the road to veganism

A Scientific papers have been written (PCRM.org) on casomorphines in cheese - they are addictive! They make us fat, pimply and catarrhy, and they can cause digestive disturbances. They are linked to cancer of the colon, breast, cervix and prostate. Today, there are ever more taste-alike "cheeses", including Treeline. lots of pizza places now use melty vegan "cheeses".