Skip to content

Bruce Friedrich Interview (2)

February 26, 2011

Bruce Friedrich

26 February 2011

Bruce Friedrich is Vice President of Policy and Government Affairs for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA).

Before joining PeTA more than a decade ago, Bruce spent six years running a shelter for homeless families and a soup kitchen in Washington, D.C., as well as leading demonstrations on behalf of unions and other causes.

In 2002, as Director of Vegan Campaigns, Bruce wrote, directed and produced “Meet Your Meat”, a video about animal agriculture, narrated by Alec Baldwin.

Bruce is a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post, was a contributor to the book “Terrorists or Freedom Fighters” (2004), wrote the forward of “Striking at the Roots”  (2008-), and co-authored (with Matt Ball) “The Animal Activist’s Handbook” (2009)

Bruce is a frequent lecturer and debater on college campuses in the United States, including Harvard, Yale and Princeton Universities.

Bruce welcomes the chance to engage ARZone members today on a range of topics, from PeTA to his extensive advocacy to his philosophies in general.


ARZone: You regularly participate in vegan outreach; what is your objective in performing outreach, which form of outreach do you find most effective, and why?

Bruce Friedrich: It’s tough to know what’s most effective, but what I most enjoy is wearing my “Ask me why I’m vegetarian shirt” and putting a vegetarian bumper sticker on my laptop so people ask me “why are you a vegetarian?” or say “I love that sticker,” and that starts an impromptu conversation. I feel like conversations are probably the most effective form of activism, but they’re a bit tougher to initiate than passing out leaflets. I can pass out 400 leaflets in an hour in a lot of spots, but the most real conversations I can have is far fewer. I do LOVE leafleting—it gives me such a sense of empowerment to think that based on what my wife, and few friends, and I do in a few hours, some people are going to have their lives transformed forever, and animals will be better off as a result.

Some other easy things that are great to do: post a video on your auto-signature and Facebook page, work to increase vegan options at restaurants, etc.

Matt Ball and I talk in more depth about our favorite forms of vegan advocacy in our book, The Animal Activist’s Handbook.

In  an article in Huffington Post (8/5/10) you concluded: If we believe that we should try not to cause people to starve OR we oppose cruelty to animals OR we(this is out of order, sorry) we believe that people should try to protect the environment, the only ethical diet is a vegetarian one. Yet vegetarianism certainly does not address issues of changing attitudes towards animals as commodities nor does it address the suffering of animals used in the dairy industyr, nor does it address the exploitation of animals. It would seem that such a statement might confuse the public and lead people to believe that there is something justifiable in the use of animals in the dairy and egg industries. Why did you not use the term vegan?

I actually don’t think most people think that much about it; I spend a lot of time leafleting, doing radio interviews, and traveling with my “Ask my why I’m vegetarian” shirt, and the bumper sticker on my laptop, and I think your question assumes a level of engagement in the general public with this issue that is (sadly) not yet there. What the word vegetarian does is to raise the issue in a way that is less threatening,

The word vegetarian gets our foot in the door. Or as Matt said in his chat, it allows us to begin at the beginning, not the end (or something like that). I think he was quoting Jonathan Safran Foer.

For years, I wore “Ask me why I’m vegan” shirts, and the questions that followed were inevitably about whether humans need dairy to survive or about bread ingredients people were generally not excited about having a conversation about animal rights, etc. They wanted to know what to put in their coffee (an okay topic, but not the best place to start). Now, I wear “Ask me why I’m vegetarian” shirts and the conversations totally focus on what you (and I) want them to focus on: animals as commodities, animal suffering, and animal exploitation. The idea that animal corpses are not meat is better for that conversation than forcing people to grapple with dairy and eggs as their entree into the topic (I think).

I’d say that moving to the word vegetarian, from vegan, was one of the very best decisions I ever made (I now regularly convince people to adopt a vegetarian diet in one conversation; that never happened with veganism), so

I’ll bet that makes a LOT more vegans, too, since vegetarianism is often a transition phase to vegan and is far better for animals. Remember that the average meat eater consumes, each year, about 35 birds, one-third of a pig, one-tenth of a cow, and one-thirtieth of the output of a dairy cow (plus who knows how many fish; estimates vary).

So for most people, this is an entrée. I hope that makes sense. Thanks for the question.

You did not answer my question; is this not a confusing message rather than a clear message? I have found people quite fascinated with veganism. Why promote something that exploits animals?

Well I don’t encourage people to eat dairy and eggs! I just focus on the first step, rather than the last step: I found, based on years of using the word vegan, that the word vegetarian is far more effective at promoting compassion for animals, empathy for animals, and even veganism: Since a vegan saves 1 more animal than a vegetarian, and since one conversation can often put a person on the path to veganism, I think the word vegetarian is much more effective for us, as animal advoctates.

As an Abolitionist Vegan, I find many aspects of PETA off-putting and offensive, for myself as a young man, to women, to nonhuman animals. Picking just one aspect for my several sentences ending with question marks, how do you feel about Welfare Reform for larger cages, or “better ways to kill” while you are with the particular animals involved?  I look after Chickens, they are my wonderful, fine feathered *friends*.  I find it productive to share videos of them living their lives online, to promote respect of all animals, human and nonhuman:

I’ve seen many human friends go “gaga” over them, “ohh, look at their feathered feet!”, “I love the way they eat bread from your hand!”, “can I pat them?”  But then my human friend will drive home, and eat, you guessed it, Chicken flesh, whether out of tradition or perceived pleasure, sometimes straight from the cardboard box, they think its ok to kill other, nameless, faceless Chickens.  Faceless because their heads have been removed – “humanely” I’m sure -, before serving.  They see a difference between Chickens who were never loved, “Factory Farm”, “Free Range Farm”, “small scale slaughterhouse” or not, and their new Chicken Friends who they’ve met. I strongly believe imagined “good lives and being Put To Sleep in a petasecond*” fairytales are to blame.  When Animal Rights groups hand out euphemistic labels, and talk of “another victory for the cause!” with every appearance on the non profits’ own aircraft carrier, what really changes for these Chicken Not-Yet-Introduced’s?…

With your belief in a right way to kill another animal, could you kill these beautiful, gentle beings yourself?  Or is it actually “Happy Meat”, desperately convincing ourselves 2+2=5, while wonderful Chickens are “fried”, and we, as their oppressors, get “rich”? Its not very difficult to move Chickens from “fried” to “friend”, it generally takes a single keystroke, and promoting Veganism as the least others deserve. I hope PETA will also decide to promote *Veganism* through creative, non violent education.

Thanks for the comments. There are a fair number of issues you’ve raised. I’ll address two of them, and then if you want to follow up, that’ll be great. First: feminism—Two of PETA’s three board of directors are women; the other is a gay man. PETA’s top two people (Pres and Exec VP) are women, and are four of our top six people (the other two are gay men).that was supposed to be “as are four of our top six people” (of course).

Other than feminist organizations, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a better place to work, as a woman. Assuming that feminism is about actions, it seems to me that PETA is about as feminist as it gets.

Regarding our use of sex in our campaigns:

1) We use anyone famous who is willing to do it. Our most recent shoot was with Baltimore Ravens star Willis McGahee (which delighted me, because I live in Baltimore). We’ve used as many men as women, perhaps more.

2) Sex sells and isn’t offensive to most people. That’s the super-brief reply to that question.

Re: happy meat and the “right way” to kill an animal: I don’t believe in happy meat or the right way to kill an animal, as I discuss here and here and here – An Advent Reflection on God and Animal Cruelty

And in lots of other places all over the Web. There are no counter-examples.

PETA does promote veganism, probably more than any other organization in the world. See: (most popular veg site on the Web) (most popular vegan videos in history) and the Animals Used for Food PeTA link.

In your previous ARZone chat, you said “It’s a start! People have responded favorably to the “Meatless Monday” concept and once they realize that they don’t miss meat for one day, they’ll stop eating it for two or three, and so on

This sounds good to me but is there any evidence that once a person gives up eating other animals on a Monday that they really do stop on Tuesdays or Wednesdays too?

I’ve met quite a few people who started with one day and kept going. For many people, the idea of going totally vegan (or even vegetarian) is simply too daunting.

Giving up meat for one day per week shows them that it can be done. And then they try 2-4, and before they know it, they’re at 7. I have a cousin who went vegan this way, and I’ve met quite a few other people who had similar experiences. It makes sense: It’s easy to say “well I’ll do this one day/week.”

But then you realize that one day/week of doing something because it’s the ethical (or healthy) choice isn’t enough. There’s a book that I can’t recommend highly enough, by a vegan a.r. activist from Philadelphia, called Change of Heart. It explores the psychology of activism, and we should all read it, to be as effective as we possibly can be: Change-Heart-Psychology-Spreading-Social It’s also worth nothing that Meatless Monday is something that institutions can endorse: For example, the Baltimore Public Schools, with 90,000 students, does it. So these students are introduced to the idea of eating meatless, and the reasons for it. Even Oprah Winfrey and the AARP (with about 15 million members in the U.S.—by far the largest member organization here) is promoting it (you can bet they would not promote veganism or animal rights)

So I think that for animals, it’s pretty great.

In PeTA’s report, “Controlled Atmosphere Killing -v- Electric Immobilization,” there is the following claim: “With CAK, workers never handle live birds, so there is no chance for abuse” (p.5). Can you clarify that this is talking ~only~ about events at the slaughterhouse end of the system – and not about the farm end. In other words, chickens will still be subject to being ripped from cages and into transportation crates?

Not ripped from cages, because these are broiler chickens. But yes, you’re right that this is purely an issue of slaughter.

Right now, chickens are dumped from crates from 3-4 feet high. Then they’re slammed into metal shackles by their often-broken legs. Then they’re electrically shocked with a charge that immobilizes them but doesn’t render them insensitive to pain. Then their throats are sliced. All of this happens, of course, while they’re still conscious. In the U.S., millions/year are flapping around and miss the electricity, so they have their chest cavities sliced open, or a leg or wing sliced off, and then they’re boiled alive, again, while fully conscious.

And every time PETA investigates, we find hideous and sadistic intentional abuse of chickens—blowing them up with homemade pipe bombs, ripping them limb from limb, piling them up and jumping up and down on them, and so on. The suffering of birds at slaughter is beyond anything any of us can possibly imagine.

CAK would eliminate humans from contact with animals at slaughter and would eliminate all of those abuses, for 10 billion animals/year in the U.S.

Every activist of whom I’m aware who has ever worked undercover in a slaughterhouse thinks it would be the most important step toward lessening animal suffering ever.

You say broiler chickens – but aren’t “spent” hens subject to CAK, but since you are talking about the slaughter end in the report it is rather misleading, no?

Well, we’re advocating on-farm CAK for spent hens, but more and more, spent hens are just killed on farm.

Sorry, though, I’m not clear on what you say is misleading. Can you clarify, please?

That it implies that there is no contact between workers and chickens but that is JUST at the slaughter end of the process.

Oh, well since we’re talking exclusively about slaughter, I’d be surprised if anyone thought we were referring to gathering. Though we do advocate manual gathering from sheds, too. That’s a bit closer to reality over here.

Bruce, you have been supportive of the recent Oprah episode involving veganism.  Do you think it’s helpful, as seems to have been the case in the Oprah episode, to present veganism as only a dietary choice? I’ve not seen the episode myself, and have only heard 80% of it; is it true that the person you refer to as advocating for “pure veganism” also believes eating eggs is acceptable? Is that in accordance with pure veganism?

Actually, Kathy advocates veganism and writes and speaks eloquently in condemnation of the egg industry. For example here and in her book, which is #2 or 3 on the NYT hardback “how to” section this week.

That said, I’m not sure what “pure veganism” is. Everything we consume involves some animal suffering (even tires have some animal ingredients,

organic foods are made with animal fertilizer, non-organic foods kill bugs and birds with pesticides and herbicides, etc.) This is the basic argument:

Personal Purity -vs- Effective Advocacy

The argument is worked into much of a chapter in a book that Matt Ball and I wrote, called The Animal Activist’s Hanbook; we admit that it’s counter-in¬tuitive, but argue that if our goal is to help animals, we’re going to have to ask what’s in their best interests as our key concern. Check it out at:

The Animal Activist’s Handbook

Thanks, Bruce. The term “pure veganism” was taken from your FB wall, but I certainly agree that living, in itself, is going to cause harm every day to other animals in some way.

I didn’t use it, did I?

Yeah, I’m pretty sure you did. I’ll double check and let you know though.

If so: Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

In your most recent Huffington Post article you write: “Imagine a political prisoner in solitary confinement who is being beaten every day; do we want that person released? Of course we do, but even if the government won’t release her we also want the beatings to stop; we want her released from solitary. We want welfare reforms for her, and we want freedom.” Any reasonable person would agree, but in a situation such as this, advocates for this person would never drop their demands for her freedom, would they? So, when PeTA makes demands of the animal agriculture industry, does it consistently make a demand for total liberation of other animals, whatever other demands they make?

Yes. And all our leaflets about campaigns like KFC and McDonald’s also advocate veganism. But we should also, I think, ally ourselves with people who disagree with us on the end game.

I know that people like Michael Pollan and Nicolette Niman, two of the most effective advocates in the U.S. against factory farms that treat animals like inanimate objects, routinely hear from angry vegans who not only are not thankful that they’re fighting for better treatment of animals, but attack them and call them names. I’ve seen the emails…

That strikes me as incredibly harmful to animals, to pillory people who are helping animals, because they don’t share our end goal. They may not currently agree with us on animal liberation, but they do agree—and want to fight for—better treatment of animals.

Just to be clear and as noted above: I don’t agree with eating meat—ever. I’m convinced that eating corpses is always immoral. I have a few pages in Jonathan Safran Foer’s book  (Eating Animals) in which I debate the idea of “humane meat” with Nicolette. But it’s worth remembering that in the battle against the huge meat companies; people like Nicolette and Michael are our (very strong) allies.

Also see thoughts on previous question.

I’m unclear, does PeTA unequivocally demand an end to animal use even when it negotiates with the industry for changes in current practices?

We unequivocally condemn animal use in all situations. I’m not sure what “demanding” an end to animal use would look like in a negotiation with McDonald’s or KFC. But we never temper our central ethical message of animal liberation.

This question is in regard to PETA’s resource allocation. If it’s true that PETA wants people to go vegan AND they want less animal suffering, and it’s true that the more vegans there are the less animals are brought into existence to live lives of suffering, wouldn’t it then be the best course of action for PETA to focus solely on vegan education?

If Hank goes vegan tomorrow, he removes himself from the demand for chickens (for example) to be raised and slaughtered chicken not brought into existence  (a chicken not brought into existence doesn’t suffer at all). Hank’s decision to not buy chickens’ flesh ideally has an effect on the pocketbooks of those who raise chickens for meat. And while it’s true that more chickens are always being brought into existence – it’s a market that’s expanding, not contracting – Hank’s refusal to buy animal products causes that market to expand at a lesser rate. And eventually, given enough time and enough Hanks (yay, vegan education!), this rate of expansion will level off and then start to decrease.

The more vegan education, the more vegans, the sooner this can happen.

This would also force a reaction among animal exploiters. If they see a trend toward veganism, they would likely, of their own accord, implement welfare reforms for PR reasons, hoping to regain the dollars of vegans and to keep from losing the dollars of those currently consuming their products. So you’d get it both – vegan education and welfare reforms – but you’d only have to focus your resources on the former. I guess I’m just wondering if/where you find fault with this reasoning.

Would you reject the idea that focusing solely on vegan education could indeed meet the goals that PETA has set for itself, i.e. making vegans (that’s a goal of PETA, right?), raising awareness of the plight of animals, and eventually liberating animals? Thanks for your time.

Yay, vegan education indeed! But please allow me to make an observation, to start: I think that if vegans focused only on vegan education, the meat industry would not be encouraged to adopt welfare regulations. You can see this historically: For most of the time there have been animal rights activists, we have focused on veganism, and there was no meaningful welfare reform. In the UK and the Netherlands, where vegans worked on welfare reform, they got welfare reform. Now that we’re pushing for welfare reform in the U.S., we’re starting to get it.

I don’t think there are any countervailing examples. i.e., I think that so far, empirically, your suggestion is observably not true.

Anyway, we definitely want to turn as many people vegetarian and vegan as possible. A vegan saves one more animal per year than a vegetarian, so it’s worth considering whether vegan advocacy or vegetarian advocacy is more fruitful. But that’s a side-issue: We also care deeply about vivisected animals, animals exploited by the circus, animals killed by the fur, leather, and wool industries, and so on.

And we care about animals who are going to suffer in all these industries for years to come. So we have campaigns on all these issues. I recently read a post that I thought likely to be true. It went:

“There are far fewer ‘resources’ without welfare campaigns–money or people. Raise your hand if you got involved because you weren’t moved by the treatment of animals? The money raised to attract your attention came from welfare campaign contributions.  As few people as there are, and as little money as there is in this movement, I wonder what it would look like if the message began as ‘end property status’ or ‘go vegan to help animals’ without any of the ‘welfare’ attempts.” I think that’s a fair observation: The welfare campaigns don’t steal money from vegan efforts.

Because they help animals, the welfare campaigns resonate with almost everyone who cares about animals, so in addition to being the right thing to do (because they help animals), they also net volunteers and financial support.

Back to resource allocation: Approximately what percentage of the PETA budget is devoted to explicitly and singly promoting veganism?

I’m afraid I don’t know. It’s certainly our largest campaign (we don’t have any other free kits or devoted Web sites that we advertize).

Sorry, I just wonder if, since it’s the largest campaign that that also means it’s what you spend the most money on. Just want to get it clear.

Of all our campaigns, veganism gets at least twice whatever comes in second. Yes.

I found PeTA’s recent SuperBowl ad (which didn’t air) to be highly offensive. I think it can be fairly described, if not as soft-core pornography, then something approaching it. If the animal rights movement is supposed to be about respecting and protecting the interests of others, how can ads which objectify women, reducing them to things over which men leer and sneer (as in the ad), dehumanizing them into little more than flesh and blood sex toys, be at all consistent with a movement and a philosophy based on the Golden Rule?

Really? I thought it was funny. Anyway, the women at PETA who conceptualized and shot the ad would suggest you’re telling women what to do with their bodies, which could be seen as more “reducing them to things” than the ad (I think).

Certainly the women who volunteered to be in the advert would suggest that they didn’t feel like “little more than flesh and blood sex toys.” And they would wonder at your desire to tell them what to do with their bodies.

Sexual attraction is a fact of life, which is why every top 100 magazine in the U.S. and UK (and I assume Australia, but I haven’t checked) is filled with adverts that use sexual attraction (generally, the fact that men like to look at women, but a fair bit of the reverse, too). That’s reality, it seems to me, not objectification. As noted previously, PETA uses men and women in our adverts and our street campaigns; for the former, it’s anyone famous. For the latter, it’s anyone who wants to do it. On my FB page, you can see me totally naked (torso up and then covered by a police jacket) from when I streaked a meeting of George Bush and the Queen at Buckingham Palace. For the record: I didn’t feel exploited!

You thought simulating oral sex, with men behind the cameras sneering at them, funny?

Do you have daughters, Bruce? How would you feel if they began simulating oral sex with vegetables because it was deemed “a fact of life”?

I did think it was funny, yes. I don’t have daughters, no. I do know a lot of young women who think it’s great (and none, including the ones in the ad who didn’t like it). I am sorry that you don’t like it though.

Bruce, forgive me, but I do have two daughters and I find the constant barrage of ads depicting women in the way PeTA does is detrimental to young girls self-esteem and self-worth.

In a comment recently you said “My concern is with disparagin¬g welfare reforms, not declining to participat¬e. The only activism this article is questionin¬g is activism directed against welfare reforms.” I wonder then if those same people give PeTA any credit for when PeTA actually get some forms of animal use abolished? For instance, on the “Victories” page of the PeTA website, small “wins” for other animals, such as convincing a school to stop boiling fishes to death (and not using fishes at all) or getting a conference to not use cats in painful procedures (substituting human-patient simulators) are listed along with many others. Is credit ever given where credit is due?

We have small abolitionist victories every day (including more than 1 million vegan starter kits distributed annually, the most popular vegan Web site and vegan videos in world history, etc.).

Some people who criticize our welfare campaigns certainly recognize that we do more to promote veganism than any other group on the planet (except maybe Vegan Outreach, which also supports welfare campaigns).

As an aside, if you agree that veganism includes issues other than diet, then PETA is by far the most successful and vocal vegan group in the world. We’re the only national group in the U.S. that stands up for fish, stands against leather and wool, and so on. So yes, some who oppose the welfare campaigns (or other things we do) grant this, which is nice.

Of course, this entire debate is one that takes place among a small fraction of one percent of the population in the U.S. or UK. PETA has a fairly large budget (for an animal group), which comes from our millions of members and supporters who support what we’re doing.

This is regarding PETA’s euthanasia policy with “rescued” animals. First, let’s agree on the definition of “euthanasia:””the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals (as persons or domestic animals) in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy.”

So it seems fair to me, by this dictionary definition, euthanasia is defined by one’s terminal lack of health, “hopelessly sick or injured.”  An individual is going to unnaturally die and is suffering, so immediately put them down.

As you already know, in 2009, PETA euthanized 2352 animals (dogs, cats, and other companion animals).  That’s over TWO THOUSAND, THREE HUNDRED animals. Public records also indicate eight animals were adopted out through this same PETA program.EIGHT ANIMALS ADOPTED. Eight animals truly rescued out, and 2352 potentially adoptable animals euthanized is a disgrace for any organization, not to mention for an organization dedicated to “ethical” treatment for animals. Sure-sure, maybe a few of these animals were terminal, but over *two thousand*? I don’t think so.

If PETA took resources from sexist “rather go naked then wear fur campaigns,”  every animal could have a home.  BTW, I see a *lot* of Facebook people offended by PETA’s sexist campaigns. Please don’t give me excuses like relieving animals some burden, like a “caged life is no life.”  We know this.  Death is no life, too.

Before you answer, Mr. Friedrich, I’d like you to think about how you would feel, if you were the next dog to be be put down by a PETA employee.  Put yourself in the dogs paws who’s life is about to end at PETA hands. Think about it.  Envision it. Hold that picture.  How would you feel?

Now, although I am interested in your overall comments to these points and what you have to generally say, I’m wondering why anyone should take PETA’s animal approach (or anything PETA does) seriously, Thank you!


Thanks for your question, which clearly comes out of a deep passion and love for animals. That said, I have to admit that I believe the question to be based in ignorance, and the way you presented it to be pretty much the opposite of ahimsa.

The people who work in PETA’s community animal project are the world’s saints, and I have more respect for them than anyone else on the planet. They do the hardest imaginable work, and then they get attacked for it by people who (I believe) couldn’t or wouldn’t do it. I suggest that you read PETA President Ingrid Newkirk’s thoughts on the issue:

PeTA: Why we Euthanise.

If you were to read the reports from CAP, they would break your heart in two.

Have you ever disagreed with a position or action that PETA has taken? If so, what was it and why did you disagree? And by all means, feel free to list more than one if there are multiple instances of disagreement.

I would guess that everyone at PETA has disagreed with PETA positions, including PETA’s President. But I’m not too excited about getting into a discussion of internal discussions. Thanks for the opportunity though!

Bruce would like to offer a closing first. Go ahead when you’re ready, please, Bruce.

I deeply appreciate being in the struggle with all of you. Any of us who grant that animals deserve rights and should not be used for human ends, is in a small (correct) minority.

While I totally support an open dialog about anything and everything (why I like ARZone and am on again), I do wish that we could spend less time arguing (okay, to be totally honest, I wish people would stop using their precious time to criticize other animal activists); on the one hand, open discussion is great. On the other hand, if we make our points and the other side disagrees, there’s a lot to be said for saying “maybe they’re right.”

It seems to me that a lot of people in this (and every other, of course) movement are totally convinced that they’re right, and they denigrate people who disagree.

I think we could all try to work on our humility and grant the good intentions of people who disagree with us.

Regardless of our disagreements, you are all heroes in my eyes, and you are on the right side of history.

Thanks very much for your time.

Thanks, Bruce!




ARZone exists to promote rational discussion about our relations with other animals and about issues within the animal advocacy movement. Please continue the debate after a chat by starting a forum discussion or by making a point under a transcript.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: