The provocative animal rights group PETA famously despises cages.
Press statements from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have described birdcages as a “death sentence” for avian pets, likened crating dogs to incarcerating them, and condemned the cruelty of fencing animals into tiny spaces on factory farms.
So the group’s latest role model — a man who cages people for a living — makes no sense to me.
In fact, Joe Arpaio, the hardline anti-immigrant sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, prides himself on making jail a miserable place to be. Why would PETA ever pal around with this guy?
Because Arpaio took meat off his inmates’ menu.
PETA was so supportive of the change that it dispatched former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson to visit Arpaio’s county jail and show support for the vegetarian menus.
First, if PETA wants to assure the rest of the population that a vegetarian diet is healthy and delicious, it shouldn’t associate it with jail food. Especially since Arpaio is famous for serving prisoners some really nasty stuff.
Of course, vegetarian and vegan food can be delicious, even if Arpaio’s version isn’t. (He also bans all salt and pepper — to save money, he says.)
Second, if PETA seeks the ethical treatment of all animals, it must demand the ethical treatment of human beings. We’re animals too.
Arpaio has kept jailed inmates under tents in the Arizona desert, where temperatures soar up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit. He’s forced them to wear pink underwear to humiliate them, and he maintains both male and female chain gangs.
How nice — he’s for equal rights for women.
Arpaio boasts that his move to meatlessness saves the county money. But the litigation his office has spurred — from allegations of torture to racial profiling — costs taxpayers far more than they save each year by dishing out vegetarian meals.
Meat-free meals don’t get the credit they deserve in America. And associating them with a sadistic sheriff isn’t going to make them more glamorous or popular.
Besides, for omnivorous prisoners, the diet change is simply a form of punishment. It’s just one more way Arpaio is depriving the incarcerated of dignity when they do time.
Praising him for ditching meat is like telling him “pink is a nice color” about the underwear he forced inmates to wear. He didn’t choose it to look pretty.
So, PETA, please choose better bedfellows to promote your agenda.
Vegetables aren’t a punishment — especially when they’re fresh and well prepared. I recommend seasoning them with salt and pepper.
OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. OtherWords.org.