If you’re just tuning in, we’re talking with Lindsay A. Rajt, spokesperson for animal-rights group PETA about her company’s recent campaign to inform the masses on the terrible conditions that millions of turkeys will endure this holiday season. Cooking Mama: Mama Kills Animals, a parody of the popular Cooking Mama series has been released for free online, and as expected has been gathering its share of controversy. With the introduction of this free-to-play game on the organization’s website, did the advocacy group go too far in their mission to educate, or not far enough?
In a case that’s sure to test the boundaries of parody and activism, we examine the means and methods behind PETA’s decision to use the burgeoning medium to help spread their message.
Thanks for speaking with us Lindsay. To start things off right, could you please tell us a bit about yourself and your role within PETA?
Great to be with you today. I manage PETA’s campaigns division – so anytime you see a PETA demonstration whether that’s someone in a giant chicken costume protesting KFC and its suppliers’ cruelty, or a woman in a cage painted like a tiger protesting Ringling Brothers abuse of animals – that’s likely someone I work with!
Can you explain the reasoning behind using the Cooking Mama franchise to help educate people on what PETA feels is an epidemic within the meat industry, specifically the slaughter of millions of turkeys during the Thanksgiving holiday season?
It is always a challenge to promote a serious message in our tabloid-focused society, but PETA’s state-of-the-art online games allow people to have fun while learning about the horrific abuse of animals in the meat industry. For example, millions of people have played our Super Chick Sisters game, in which players try to rescue Princess Pamela Anderson from the clutches of Evil Colonel Sanders, all the while learning about KFC’s cruelty to chickens. If people come away both entertained and more compassionate, we’ve accomplished our goal.
The popularity of cooking-themed videogames has never been higher, particularly those for both the Nintendo Wii and DS platforms. As these consoles hold considerable appeal to non-traditional gaming demographics, do you feel there’s been a lack of progress made to introduce vegetarian-style options to gamers?
Several readers have expressed interest, and hasn’t PETA been encouraging players to demand a vegetarian cooking game?
Yes, the world of cooking games isn’t quite up to speed with the real food world, where being vegetarian is easier than ever. Majesco responded to our game with a press release stating that the latest iteration of their popular series, Cooking Mama: World Kitchen featured 25 vegetarian-friendly games. We think this is a great step forward but still look forward to an all vegetarian-recipe cooking game. We know that our more than 2 million members and supporters would buy such a game in droves.
Considering PETA’s creation of web-based software, what about the organization putting one together themselves?
That’s an excellent idea! We’re already on to planning our next online game and a game that shows how delicious and interesting vegetarian cooking can be, might be the perfect game. However, even with the rise of independent development through WiiWare and Microsoft’s XNA Creators Club there’s no doubt that having a major developer behind the initiative would give any animal-friendly game a much greater reach.
Your press release for the game makes the observation that “when the player beats the game, Mama has a change of heart and replaces her bloodlust with a craving for tofu-turkey.” This doesn’t seem to paint the psychological make-up of those who cook and consume meat products in a very flattering light. Was this PETA’s intent, or simply an exaggeration?
PETA’s depiction of Mama is hyperbole, but eating the decaying, feces-contaminated flesh of an abused animal is inherently gross. Our game shows the reality – turning a living, feeling animal into meat involves violently killing her, ripping her intestines out and cutting her head off.
I think a lot of people would be surprised to hear that the Cooking Mama isn’t PETA’s first videogame, or even the first to feature some familiar faces. Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers meet the Super Chick Sisters, while Frogger gets transformed into Lobster Liberation.
But with the Cooking Mama: Mama Kills Animals, there’s little room to interpret the game as a parody, as none of the principle content has been sufficiently modified to suggest otherwise. Why choose this franchise to make a stand on the issue of animal cruelty?
We don’t have anything against the video game per se, but we do wish it would allow people to prepare more vegan dishes instead of just slicing up animal flesh over and over. We also timed the release of our game to line up with Thanksgiving and remind people that holidays are time to give thanks with family and friends – the rotting corpse of an abused animal is not an appropriate centerpiece for a celebration.
A spokesman from Cooking Mama’s PR department told me they have no comment at this time [they since have], but would be issuing a statement soon. Has PETA been contacted about the use of the Mama license in their campaign?
We were happy to hear that Majesco has released a statement which explains that while Mama is not a vegetarian she is interested in the humane treatment of animals. In an open letter to Mama on our blog we encouraged Mama to take the pledge to be vegetarian for 30 days.
A disclaimer on the PETA website clearly indicates that activists should obey the law, stating “If you decide to undertake an action shown or described on this site, before doing so, please make sure that you will be acting in accordance with the laws of your area at all applicable times.”
However, one of the games that PETA offers on their website, Bloody Burberry – the Fur Fighters, specifically encourages the player to engage in acts that promote vandalism (damaging fur in retail stores), all while evading security officers. Wouldn’t this contradict PETA’s own disclaimer to obey the law?
Moments like that one in our games are the reason behind our disclaimer – in the real world PETA obeys the law, and we don’t want anyone to misinterpret something that we put out there for fun, and think that we’re actually encouraging them to engage in vandalism.
Furthering that point, the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) is the regulatory board for the videogame industry that rates both games and their online content as a resource to assist people in making informed decisions on what content they view.
Given the whimsical nature that PETA’s games suggest, what would you say to parents who might be upset their children would be exposed to some of the extreme brutality hidden beneath the auspices of cute and familiar designs? Would PETA be amiable to affixing warnings on those titles that might possibly offend some?
Children are naturally compassionate, but they are brainwashed into believing that they’re supposed to eat animals. The meat industry won’t tell kids that it mutilates animals without painkillers and drugs them to grow so large they become crippled, and the meat industry certainly doesn’t tell kids or parents that eating meat contributes to heart disease and obesity. It’s our duty to expose the meat industry’s dirty secrets.
Parents who want to teach their kids about compassion but don’t think their kids are ready for games like this can check out www.PETAKids.com.
I noticed that PETA is running a contest to help promote the release of the upcoming film Twilight, which centers on creatures who are most definitely not vegetarian – vampires.
As both Twilight and Cooking Mama are fictional creations, what would you say to those who would question attacking one license and not the other? Wouldn’t PETA’s promotion of that film seem to suggest that eating people is preferable to the cooking of animals?
Our intent with designing the Cooking Mama was not to attack the original game as I mentioned earlier, so much as it is to raise awareness about the cruelty in the meat industry and to get people thinking about the fact that before they are centerpieces, turkeys are living, feeling animals just like dogs and cats.
Both the Cooking Mama parody and the Twilight promotion – which is really a Q&A with one of the stars – are done in with good humor and fun. This is a way for people to get information about the plight of animals and still enjoy our site at the same time.
What would you recommendation to those readers looking for alternatives to the traditional Thanksgiving dinner this holiday? What’s the best place to start for those still hesitant to go fully tofu-turkey?
Haha, well, from tofu and vegetables to mock meats like Tofurky and Garden Protein, there are plenty of healthy, tasty and traditional holiday foods that don’t cause animals to suffer. People can visit www.GoVeg.com for free holiday recipes and creative main dishes that you can create lieu of a dead turkey or a Tofurky, and if you don’t have a Tofurky to pop in the oven this year you can win one there, too.
Lindsay, once again I’d like to thank you for taking the time to chat with us today, and we’ll be looking out for that vegetarian game!
Thanks, it was a pleasure to speaking with you, and I hope all those joining us will consider giving birds a break by leaving them off their plates this year.
For more info on PETA please visit their official website at http://www.peta.org/