- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 21, 2001

NORFOLK The activists in People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) still would prefer that turkey be banished from the Thanksgiving dinner table. They have just stopped being so in-your-face about it.
The Norfolk-based group known for its sometimes outrageous tactics has become decidedly more low-key since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
So the banners PETA previously has hung from overpasses proclaiming that "Thanksgiving is Murder on Turkeys" are absent this holiday season.
Instead, PETA is sending meatless, soy-based turkey substitutes and fake-beef roasts to more than 50 homeless shelters nationwide this week, plus giving tofu turkeys to 20 winners of an online essay contest. It's also shipping tofu jerky samples to the 5,000-member crew of the Norfolk-based aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, deployed in the war against terrorism.
In addition, PETA supporters in animal costumes and women clad in bikinis made of lettuce will pass out recipes and other vegetarian information to holiday travelers this week at a half-dozen airports, including Norfolk International Airport.
"Obviously, everybody in the country has been profoundly affected by the events and aftermath of September 11," spokesman Bruce Friedrich said. As a result, "we're trying to focus on things that are positive and that pull us together, rather than things that unsettle people."
How long PETA will continue in this vein remains to be seen. The group long has used stunts such as smashing a tofu-cream pie in the face of a corporate leader to protest product testing on animals to publicize its agenda.
"If we're able to capture people's attention and maintain that with exclusively upbeat campaigns, we'll continue to do exclusively upbeat campaigns," Mr. Friedrich said.
PETA is getting some celebrity help with its upbeat campaigns for Thanksgiving.
Martin Sheen, who portrays the president on NBC-TV's "The West Wing," sent letters on PETA's behalf to 450 homeless shelters, offering them a free meatless alternative to turkey to serve on Thanksgiving.
"With 17 million vegetarians in the United States today, you will undoubtedly have some visitors who have given up meat," Mr. Sheen wrote. With the soy substitute, "they can enjoy a delicious main course instead of making a meal out of side dishes."
More than 50 shelters responded, and PETA is sending them meatless turkeys and/or roasts.
"It's President Bartlett really pardoning some turkeys," Mr. Friedrich said, referring to Mr. Sheen's character in the NBC drama.
Meanwhile, John Popper of the band Blues Traveler is talking turkey on PETA's hot line (888/VEG-FOOD). Callers can request vegetarian recipes and listen to a recorded message from the singer.
"You probably figure a meat-and-potato guy like me would be the last person that you'd expect to hear on a PETA hot line," Mr. Popper says. "But I gotta tell you, the more I learn about how turkeys suffer before they end up in the oven, the more I like the sound of a meat-free holiday meal."
PETA contends turkeys suffer by being crammed into warehouses and killed while conscious, and that the birds have been genetically bred to grow so quickly that they suffer from leg deformities and illnesses.
Those charges are disputed by the National Turkey Federation, a Washington-based group that represents much of the turkey industry.
"It's simply not in the economic interest of turkey growers to mistreat animals," group spokeswoman Sherrie Rosenblatt said. "It costs more to grow a stressed animal to market weight; it lowers the quality at the end of the product."
The federation estimates 45 million turkeys will be eaten this Thanksgiving by 95 percent of American families.
"In light of the events of September 11, people are going to be more traditional than ever, and turkey is part of an American holiday tradition," Miss Rosenblatt said.


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