They came to enlighten, to titillate, to feed the homeless (although perhaps not intentionally). In an afternoon punctuated by false starts, ambulance sirens and skimpy green outfits, PETA, for better or worse, gave away hundreds of veggie dogs to an appreciative crowd at the northeast corner of Stewart Avenue and 4th Street last Friday. Using two Los Angeles-based models gussied up to look like they were wearing lettuce bikinis, PETA spread its gospel of the healthy benefits of eating vegetarian. And what better city to spread that message than Las Vegas? After all, according to a recent magazine article, we’re the fourth-fattest city in the country.
So spread the word PETA would, despite any obstacles. And there were definitely a few at first. Due to a communications snafu in their permit, the “Lettuce Ladies” were originally going to set up at noon at the southwest corner of Stewart and 4th, in front of the City Hall parking lot, but were shooed to the opposite corner, resulting in a delay—and a decidedly less attractive venue, in front of an empty lot surrounded by a chain-link fence and several empty 40s. As volunteers grabbed what they could to assist in the move, one confused-looking volunteer named Nick commented, “I thought I was coming here for a climate demonstration.” Not that the Lettuce Ladies didn’t raise a few temperatures. One guy on a cell phone offered a loud, protracted “God-DAMMMMMM” upon spotting Whitney Ayres and Meggan Anderson, who also got a “snort” from a passing ambulance.
Volunteer Shauna Saling, wearing a T-shirt with the message “Tofu Never Screams,” busily got volunteer information down on a clipboard as campaign coordinator Amanda Fortino listed the other cities PETA has taken its veggie cleavage campaign to—Miami, Detroit, Louisville, Oklahoma City. Several locals who had seen the campaign promoted on that morning’s news were a little unclear on exactly what it was all about. Sunnie Klein, who had never heard of PETA before the event, thought they were an anti-animal group after looking at the graphic pictures of animal slaughter in a brochure being handed out. (She was relieved to be informed otherwise.) Another woman saw the hot dogs being loaded into steam trays and asked, “Where’s the store going to be located?”
A great many of the other attendees were homeless, including one guy who asked me if I had a spare T-shirt. He was disappointed to find out I didn’t, but he was still glad to be there. “It’s for a good cause, right? I believe in God.”
As Mark Meek explained his attendance was the result of “multi-tasking”—he had a free play at Fitzgerald’s and figured he’d see if veggie dogs were any good—a few volunteers with a hand cart unloaded the last of the supplies on the other side of the street, upending a few 24-packs of bottled water into the curb along the way. With apologies to the crowd, PETA began the giveaway. As the crowd busily loaded two dogs apiece onto each plate, comments such as “fourth-fattest city” and “vegetarians tend to weigh less” could be overheard from the volunteers.
Meek looked surprised after biting into his by-now-somewhat-cold dog. “Can’t tell the difference. Looks the same, too. Actually probably tastes a little better.”
Klein agreed. “It’s better for you, and it tastes better,” although one of her friends offered, “It tastes like a baby-food hot dog.”
Fortino said Internet activity always increases after one of these events, but that most appear to be grateful for the information. “A lot of people are scared to try new things.”
Today no one appeared scared. Just hungry and a little impatient.