A little over 13 years ago, I saw Alicia Silverstone on the The View and it changed my life. No, really. She talked about how she was vegan, and after her segment was over, I was curious and Googled Alicia Silverstone and veganism. That led me to a bunch of undercover videos on the PETA website (Silverstone has partnered with PETA on several campaigns) that revealed to me for the first time how the animals we regularly exploit for food are horribly abused and killed on factory farms and in slaughterhouses. After a couple hours of watching this disturbing footage, I decided to join Silverstone and go vegan myself.
The days, weeks, and months that followed were a mixture of books, podcasts, and documentaries on the subject of animal rights. The more I learned, the more I couldn’t believe the hidden world of animal abuse our society unknowingly supports every day – whether it’s the wool sweater we buy from the mall, the bacon we put in our sandwich, or the tickets to SeaWorld.
I decided I wanted to do more to help animals than just with my consumer choices. So, I signed up for PETA’s action alerts. In all honesty though, I was a little wary about going to protests and demonstrations. This was after the government started heavily cracking down on animal rights activism in the mid-2000’s. Several activists had actually been branded domestic terrorists and sent to federal prison around this time – you can learn more about the case here.
I got an email alert for an upcoming demonstration at the KFC in my neighborhood and I mustered up the courage to go. The day of the demo, I got there early and drove by once or twice to check it out. There were people beginning to gather and set up. I parked my car several blocks from the KFC in case there were undercover FBI agents taking down license plates (dramatic, I know). I then joined the group of a couple dozen protestors and was handed a sign to hold. I was also told that we would be “slaughtering” someone dressed as Colonel Sanders with fake blood and all.
The whole thing was both edgy and hilarious, and drew quite a lot of press, which in turn brought attention to PETA’s Kentucky Fried Cruelty campaign. At the time, PETA was in the midst of a years-long campaign to raise awareness of how birds killed for KFC were violently abused. They were also pushing for KFC to add vegan options to their menu.
That’s why it gave me a glimmer of hope last week – 13 years after this demo – when I read that KFC will begin offering a plant-based version of their chicken at more than 50 locations in Southern California. Last year, they tested the vegan version at a location in Atlanta and it sold out in a matter of hours. Can I credit this solely to PETA’s campaign? No. But there is no doubt that the work PETA did during all those years helped.
In fact, KFC recently stated that year after year, demand for plant-based chicken at their restaurants has continued to grow. Additionally, KFC revealed they’re also going beyond plant-based alternatives and exploring new technologies like 3D printing and lab-grown chicken cells to create a slaughter-free version of their nuggets.
It’s been widely reported on that plant-based alternatives are having a moment, but it might be more accurate to call that a movement – a development both years in the making and one that continues to gain momentum. Still, meat consumption in the United States also continues to climb. It’s gonna take a lot more vegan chicken to make a dent – and maybe some more protests, too.