Confessions of an International PETA Provocateur
In the ’90s, I made my demonstration debut – the weirdest experience I’d ever had. I was dressed as Cupid – in a nude-colored leotard – in the freezing cold. At PETA, where “business attire” can mean a chicken suit in an animal-abusing corporation’s boardroom, catapulting animal issues into the headlines sometimes takes equal parts dedication and humiliation. In this case, I helped persuade personal care product giant Gillette to “have a heart” and stop testing on animals.
Working at PETA Stinks
I’ve “starred” in more than 100 demonstrations over the years. Those world-famous PETA cage demos? That was my idea – one that I’ve questioned after spending all day crammed inside a crate. I blocked a poultry convention’s entrance with a truckload of manure and a “Meat Stinks” sign. Why? Because chicken carcasses are contaminated with so much E. coli that kitchens may actually harbor more fecal bacteria than toilets do.
Later, I followed US Vice President Al Gore around for six months dressed as a bunny to persuade him to stop government testing on animals. I became so well known to his staff that once when I arrived at an airport with a volunteer, a Secret Service agent asked, “Which of you is Jason Baker?” Our persistence paid off, and in a huge victory for animals, Gore caved and ordered the chemical-testing program to spare more than 3 million animals.
‘Diaper Boy’ for the Win
I was the diaper-clad “big baby” the media photographed outside the Kimberly-Clark Corporation, protesting the testing of chemicals used in Huggies on mice. After taking one look at me, the CEO reportedly said, “I don’t care what it takes, but I want us to stop testing on animals. I don’t want protesting babies outside a shareholder meeting ever again.” That diaper picture is still shown around at the office, but that’s fine, because attention-grabbing demonstrations succeed. They get people talking about the fact that using animals means hurting living, feeling beings, and they get companies to the negotiating table.
In the Slammer With Celebs
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Pamela Anderson, who stormed a KFC with me, and Chrissie Hynde, who is up for anything, including protesting mulesing – a gruesome mutilation of lambs in which large portions of skin and flesh are cut from their rumps. I’ve been arrested more than a dozen times while protesting cruelty to animals, and may I say that New York City jails are always special. I once shared a cell with a man who washed his face in the toilet.
From Bunny Suit to Business Suit
Today, I’m in charge of PETA Asia’s international campaigns. I’ve spearheaded many undercover investigations, including the one exposing forced monkey labor on Thailand’s coconut farms – which prompted more than 25,000 stores worldwide to drop coconut products picked by monkeys. Other investigations have revealed that training baby bears in Asia means chaining them to a wall by the neck – and that training baby elephants means tying them down and beating them until they’re too psychologically damaged to defend themselves. I go wherever I’m needed, and sometimes that commitment takes me to dangerous places. In 2006, I traveled to the war zone in Lebanon to feed dogs and cats left behind after air strikes. In my 25-plus years with PETA, I’ve traveled over 2 million miles, organizing hundreds of demonstrations on five continents and in every major city in Asia and North America. I’ve also helped set up PETA affiliates in India, Asia, and Australia.
Baker and Son: Road Warriors
Now, my 7-year-old son, Zelic, is in on the action. He wants to work for PETA when he grows up, and he already has his foot in the door: At 6, he filmed a monkey school in Thailand. He uses the fact that he was adopted as an argument for us to adopt every animal he sees. Smart kid! Maybe he’ll continue the Diaper Boy legacy – a father can only hope.
Jason Baker is PETA Asia’s Senior Vice President of International Campaigns.