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Provoking Debate & Protecting Animals: Q&As with Dan Mathews of PETA

Dan Mathews (Photo by Kamil Szkopik)

Dan Mathews (Photo by Kamil Szkopik)

Senior Vice President of Campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Dan Mathews, is known around the world for launching PETA’s most provocative and attention-getting campaigns in the fight against animal cruelty. Many of his campaigns have been targeted at designers in the fashion industry who use fur. From occupying the lobby of Calvin Klein in New York in 1994 to heading a “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” campaign, Dan has proven that edgy displays of activism can help propel change.

We are so excited that Dan will be joining us on the 2019 Holistic Holiday at Sea vegan cruise! In addition to a book signing for Committed: A Rabble-Rouser’s Memoir, Dan will present a lecture titled “Committed to Activism for Animals.” In it, he’ll discuss how he spent the last 30 years crashing fashion runways in Milan, strategizing with Paul McCartney in London, lobbying Russian diplomats with Pamela Anderson, and being arrested during so many protests that he wrote a “Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Jails.”

Dan joined the PETA team as a receptionist in 1985 and was quickly promoted within the company. He shares, “As the resident punk rocker from the MTV generation, I always had ideas on how to reach young people, so I moved from the reception desk into campaigns within a year.” Dan’s ability to sway opinion has made him a hugely influential figure in the plant-based movement. Read more below about his recent achievements and advice for catalyzing change.


Q: Any advice for HHAS guests who have already made the switch to plant-based about how to make a difference when they return home (besides choosing what’s on their plates)?

A: I always urge people to reach beyond their circle to influence those who are not like-minded. My husband Jack and I host vegan dinner parties a lot at home for our non-veggie friends in order to show them how tasty and easy it is.”


Q: Any recent landmark victories for PETA that you’d like to highlight?

A: Last year saw the last show ever of Ringling Bros, a circus that has been abusing elephants, tigers, and other animals since it started in 1871. They went out of business after three decades of being targeted by PETA and other groups, when a generation that came of age with animal rights as a hot topic would have no part of it. I think all animal rights issues are generational, which is reflected in how young people spend their money. That’s why we were finally able to pressure Michael Kors, Gucci, Armani, and Donna Karan to drop fur in the past year. They realized they risk losing up-and-coming customers. Animal rights is a consumer issue more than a political one.

Also, I love bringing the veg issue into unlikely places. I have recently helped cook and serve a vegan lunch to thousands of inmates at an Arizona jail and worked with the City of New Orleans to have a vegan gumbo cook-off at their annual Gumbo Fest in Louis Armstrong Park, and it drew twice the crowd it usually does.


Q. What do you hope folks who are only vegan for health reasons can take away from your presentation?

A. It’s great to think about your health, but it’s also important to consider the health and welfare of the animals churned up by these industries. It’s just a basic respect for animals, whether or not you consider yourself an animal lover. Though I never quibble with anyone who is veg for health reasons. I’m just glad they do it!


Q. I’ve heard you say that all press is good press. In your decades of activism, what are some of the ways you’ve managed to stay in the forefront of the animal cruelty issue?

A. When you are an activist and rely on buzz in the press to keep issues on the public’s mind, it’s important to keep an eye on the sorts of things people pay attention to. I don’t like reality TV, but the public follows these people, so we involve them in our campaigns. Same with sports figures, and with social media. Part of getting the message to the masses is being aware of trends to be in front of.


Q. You became involved with animals as a child when you saved cats in your neighborhood. Did you become vegan right away or was that later in college when you joined forces with PETA in 1985?

A. I became vegetarian on a fishing trip with my dad when I was 14 in 1979. I became vegan when I started at PETA in 1985 as the receptionist when I was 20.

Q. Who are some vegan celebrities that the majority of folks may not realize are vegan?

A. Miley Cyrus, Carrie Underwood, Rev. Al Sharpton, and Tom Brady, for starters.


Q. Any specific example of when your patience with people who have differences of opinion led to great results?

A. I wrote Martha Stewart when she was in jail about fur, which she wore a lot. We had met before and it was frosty. I wrote, ‘Now that you have some time to reflect, please read these materials. You are such a civilized person and fur is so barbaric.’ She wrote back that she’d not only shun fur in the future, but that she would host a PETA testimonial video exposé of fur farms when she got sprung from the joint. [Watch that video here!]


Q. What does your ideal world look like?

A. One in which people and animals only die of old age rather than by guns or disease, many of which we bring on ourselves through eating meat.

Q. Any huge achievements in 2018 you’re excited to share?

A. Designer John Galliano, who was PETA’s #1 enemy for his use of fur and every other kind of animal skin, finally gave it up! It happened after we randomly met swimming in the ocean and became friendly. It’s easy to be infuriated with people who have cruel habits, but a little patience can pay off. [Read more about it here.]


Q. Have you been to any of our 2019 ports of call before? What are you most looking forward to about this cruise?

A. Aside from Miami, no, I haven’t, so I am very excited about this trip. I have never been on a cruise of any kind, so I’m very much looking forward to this first-time experience.