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PETA will promote, not protest, Nathan’s at hot dog eating contest, handing out free vegan dogs in dramatic shift

The inside of a Nathan's vegan hot dog.
Photo by Ben Brachfeld

PETA, the animal activist organization known as the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, will refrain from its usual tradition of protesting Nathan’s Famous at the annual Hot Dog Eating Contest this weekend and, in a shocking twist, will actually give out free wieners…of the vegan variety.

The animal rights group will set up shop at the century-old sausage purveyor during the storied contest, slinging the vegan hot dogs which Nathan’s recently started selling at select stores, including the Coney Island flagship, for free to hungry passersby in the hopes of converting them to the cause.

PETA activists will set up shop at Stillwell and Surf avenues on Sunday at 11 am, armed with trays of 196 vegan dogs they purchased, copies of their “How to Go Vegan” guide, and talking points for veg-curious pedestrians. The activists will also have ketchup, relish, and whatnot handy, but will be supplying their own buns; Nathan’s buns are not vegan, as they are made with butter.

“This is a fun way to show people that they can enjoy hot dogs without causing cows to suffer,” said Kearney Robinson, PETA’s vegan food distribution coordinator, in an interview with Brooklyn Paper. “Veggie dogs taste great, are better for people and the environment, and there are dozens of brands everywhere. And now we’re showing people that they can even buy Nathan’s vegan hot dogs.”

In the past, PETA has not had the closest relationship with Nathan’s, for obvious reasons. The group has historically conducted protest actions at Coney Island during the contest, such as by buying ads encouraging veganism, dressing up in animal costumes, picketing, or even disrupting the event by splashing fake blood on contestants.

PETA is well known, and controversial, for splashy, attention-grabbing protest actions against the meat and fur industry, as well as against the use of animals in experimentation or in entertainment. Protesters have doused themselves and others in fake blood, showed up to dog shows dressed in KKK robes, and participated in graphic “die-ins” in public places.

Their famous “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” campaign, which saw numerous celebrities strip down to their birthday suits, recently ended after 30 years after PETA declared victory in the war on fur, with the industry in significant decline and facing crackdowns from state and local governments.

PETA has also attracted controversy for euthanizing animals in their care, even amidst a nationwide movement to end the practice by animal rights groups.

The hot dog contest will go on this year without the option of substituting for vegan dogs, as organizers haven’t yet studied whether the new weenies produce a comparable feeling of fullness to their meat-based counterparts, the contest’s promoter told Brooklyn Paper last month. However, future contests could potentially include vegan dogs, opening up the festivities to vegetarian and vegan gorgers. And PETA says that if that’s the case, their detente with Nathan’s may become permanent.

“Any step in that direction is a great step. If they do something like that next year, we’ll be glad to come out to celebrate and promote the progress that they’ve made,” Robinson said. “If they continue to incorporate more animal-friendly options, what we do will look different than what it has in the past.”

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