Lindsay A. Rajt
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. A parody of the popular videogame Cooking Mama 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
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 spread their message. To view the "Cooking Mama: Mama Kills
Animals" game for yourselves, please visit the official site right
HERE. Caution: contains graphic imagery and situations.
PZ: 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?
LR: 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!
PZ: 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?
LR: 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
PZ: 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?
LR: 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.
PZ: Considering PETA’s creation of web-based software, what about the
organization putting one together themselves?
LR: 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.
PZ: 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?
LR: 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.
PZ: 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?
LR: 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.
PZ: 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
LR: 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.
PZ: 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
LR: 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.
PZ: 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 that 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?
LR: 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
PZ: 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?
LR: 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
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.
PZ: 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?
LR: 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.
PZ: 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!
LR: 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
For more information on PETA please visit their official website at