The Pilgrims were many things: courageous, resourceful, unyielding. Sexy, however, they were not. They weren't exactly great friends of turkeys, either.
The media-savvy People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, however, apparently saw Thanksgiving as a perfect time to address both those defects in the Pilgrims' character. That's why a half-dozen PETA activists led by a "sexy Pilgrim" were in Market Square the day before Thanksgiving, handing out "Tofurkeys" -- a turkey-substitute made of tofu -- to somewhat wary passers-by.
"It's a fun, upbeat way to make people think about making Thanksgiving a compassionate holiday for all," said the sexy Pilgrim herself, Philadelphia's Dezeray Rubinchik, who was sporting a Pilgrim hat, collarless Lycra outfit, and a few tattoos Cotton Mather probably wouldn't have approved of. "A lot of people think the turkeys are [put to sleep] before they were killed," she noted. To dispel such illusions, another PETA volunteer had a viewing screen showing the uglier side of turkey farming.
One might wonder whether wearing Lycra in late November constitutes unethical treatment of humans. But Rubinchik is a volunteer, touring eastern cities in recent days. "This is the warmest city we've been in so far," she said.
The reception was warmer in Pittsburgh as well. In Cleveland, "Someone threw a Tofurkey at me," but in Market Square onlookers were friendly though skeptical. ("I thought they got treated good, them turkeys," noted one passer-by dressed in orange camouflage. Anyway, he added, "I like red meat!") Most seemed willing to try the Tofurkey, and were willing to hear the PETA message. ("I got a ham sandwich at the house," one said. "Now I might not eat it.")
But whether they swallow PETA's message -- or its Tofurkey -- "Every single person, they think about it," contends PETA campaign coordinator William Rivas-Rivas. "It doesn't take a graduate degree to understand cruelty." Unlike the Pilgrims themselves, Rivas-Rivas is used to preaching to the non-converted: He was a practicing vegan during a stint in the Navy on board the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk. In fact, he notes, he was exposed to veganism while getting a college education financed by an ROTC scholarship. "If it weren't for the U.S. military, I wouldn't be [working] at PETA.
"Sometimes you have to work from the belly of the beast," he added.
Apparently, PETA has yet to campaign against some of our less animal-sensitive metaphors.