There was much ado about PETA when it launched one of its campaigns for PETA Latino this past April. In infamous PETA fashion, Panamian model/actress Patricia De León appeared nude on a giant piece of broccoli with the caption “Dressing Optional.”
I don’t know what it is about PETA campaigns that brings out everyone’s inner prude and critic but, as always, the PSA sent the usual female exploitation groups into a tizzy. There was, however, also a huge uproar from members of the media on PETA’s outreach to Latinos. “Irrelevant” and “unnecessary” were the cries shouted across websites everywhere.
Had any of those insta-haters done their journalistic duties and dug deeper, they would’ve discovered the company’s very sincere efforts in promoting animal rights but also, and more importantly, at promoting healthier lifestyles in the Latino community.
It all started last summer when PETA hired Renée Saldaña as its Latino Community Outreach Coordinator. PETA’s initial outreach into the Latino community mostly consisted of Spanish language translations of its brochures and campaigns. Saldaña came on board and helped the company revamp and rebrand its outreach as PETA Latino.
She redid the website and strengthened the company’s social media presence with active Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts. “People are really excited,” says Saldaña referring to the group’s 98,000+ Facebook followers and 10,000+ followers on Twitter.
“The community was waiting for this and, now that they have it, people are just eating it up.” The non-profit group promotes its many campaigns with the assistance of Latino celebrities, all of who donate their time and money for a cause they believe in. One of their first campaigns featured Marco Antonio Regil of game show Minuto Para Ganar as the Spanish-language narrator of slaughterhose exposé Glass Walls (Paredes De Cristal).
Other Latinos who support PETA’s efforts include Olympic boxer Marlen Esparza, music duo Rodrigo Y Gabriela, actress Constance Marie, and producer/TV personality Natalia Villaveces. Ruben Albarran of Café Tacvba recently unveiled his pro-vegetarian campaign with PETA Latino.
How PETA Latino is different
One aspect of PETA Latino that separates it from its parent company is its strong focus on region-specific vegan cuisine, not just faux-meats. The company promotes animal rights by promoting vegetarian/vegan diets.
“Fifty percent of Latinos in the U.S. are lactose intolerant,” explains Saldaña, adding that “Over 50 percent of Mexican-American women in the U.S. are not only just overweight but they’re obese. This current diet that we have is hurting us.”
De León, our nude broccoli model from the opening paragraph, dealt with numerous digestive problems for most of her life. Ten years ago, she made the switch to a vegetarian diet and hasn’t suffered any digestive problems ever since. She also approached PETA about going nude and not the other way around. “These are women who are in full control of their bodies,” says Saldaña of PETA’s nude campaigns.
“A lot of women come to us wanting to do these campaigns. I think it’s great that these women are lending their bodies to a good cause.”
Saldaña was 13 when she took her first step to being vegan by cutting out red meat from her diet. She made the switch after learning about animal rights and animal cruelty in a number of riot grrl zines. Her father was one of many who disagreed with her choice especially when she refused to eat meat during the holidays.
“Fast-forward 20 years later,” she explains, “and my dad is diagnosed as borderline diabetic. He’s overweight, he has extremely high cholesterol, [and] suffering from a lot of health problems. So then my dad, the person who told me a lot of mean things about me being vegetarian as a kid, suddenly started asking me for tofu recipes.”
Her father’s change in diet has made him healthier, slimmer, and happier. “Hopefully,” she adds, “we can get people to realize that before they get to the point that my dad was at.”
If PETA Latino can improve the health and well-being of Latinos, then the company’s existence is not only relevant but also necessary.