WASHINGTON, July 21 (UPI) -- The animal-rights activists infamous for hurling fake blood at fashion models in fur coats are using half-nude models to hurl invectives at meat-eating members of Congress.
Wearing nothing but plastic-lettuce bikinis, two former Playboy Playmates manned a makeshift hot-dog stand in front of the Rayburn Office Building on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
"Are we de-virginizing you as a veggie hot-dog eater?" Kari Kennell purred to a waiting congressional intern as she watched fellow Playmate Lauren Anderson place a steaming Yves brand Jumbo Veggie Dog into a bun. Before the blushing young man could respond, Kennell was on to her next conquest, a woman in a business suit: "What about you? You want to take a picture with us?"
Kennell and Anderson were on a humanitarian mission: to entice congressional staff members into filling up on vegetarian hot dogs before they fell prey to the carnivorous carnival taking place inside the building courtyard.
Organized by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the annual Congressional Vegetarian Hot Dog Giveaway is the animal-rights answer to the bigger, meatier Hot Dog Lunch given every year since the mid-1970s by the American Meat Institute in celebration of "National Hot Dog Month," also known as July.
"We think it's a fun, light-hearted way to bring attention to the fact that real-meat hot dogs are laden with cholesterol, fat and cruelty," said Matt Prescott, a PETA spokesman.
The activist group is known for much more than its lightheartedness. Last month, PETA activists in Scotland compared meat eaters to Nazis, showing pictures of Nazi prisoners next to pictures of chickens, and caged Jewish children beside piglets.
That campaign was also the brainchild of Prescott. "I'm Jewish and I had family members who died in the Holocaust," he said. "It was a way to show people that we can all draw lessons from history."
In comparison, this PETA event may have been lighthearted, though it drew fire from the American Meat Institute for being exploitative of women.
"I just think it's ironic that they need people in bikinis to try to get people to eat vegetarian," said AMI spokeswoman Mary Riley. "We're here in conservative clothes, and they're beating down our doors."
Indeed, the meat lobby's free lunch drew a considerably larger crowd. Patrick J. Boyle, president and chief executive officer of AMI, estimated that his event would serve between 3,000 and 4,000 meat wieners to about 1,000 members of Congress, their staffs and the employees of other trade associations.
"The Hot Dog Lunch has become, over the years, one of the most sought-after invitations in town," Boyle said.
The former Playmates, both longtime vegetarians and PETA members, dismissed any notion that they were being sexually exploited.
"We're not being exploited," said Kennell, who wore a skimpy bikini draped with plastic lettuce leaves. "We're here voluntarily. Yeah, maybe it's shocking to see us in lettuce, but shock is what gets people's attention these days."
It might come as an even bigger shock that hot dogs cause impotence.
"When you eat meat it clogs arteries to all organs," Prescott said. "Which is one of the reason we brought the Playmates. Because they know good loving."
Working both sides of the aisle Wednesday were members of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a non-profit group promoting passage of the Food Choking Prevention Act, a bill that would require the food industry to add labeling on packaging to alert parents and caregivers to possible choking hazards.
Along with hard candies and popcorn, hot dogs pose a serious choking risk, said Annie Bryant, a CSPI spokeswoman.
Bryant neglected to take sides in the meat vs. veggie debate. "That's not our issue today," she said. "As far as safety is concerned, we believe they both should be properly cut up."
Rather than slicing dogs into "cork-shaped" pieces, Bryant recommended they be cut both lengthwise and horizontally to minimize choking risk.
Boyle said AMI, which represents meat and poultry producers and processors, would oppose the bill. "We don't think Congress should dictate how moms and dads slice hot dogs," he said.
Whether eating veggie dogs or all-beef franks, people at both events seemed nonplussed by the controversy -- and were just grateful for a free lunch.
Michael Rose, 15, a tourist from Valparaiso, Ind., came across the PETA giveaway while touring the capital with his father. "It's a little bit chewy," he said of the veggie dog. "It definitely has a vegetable flavor."
Rose said he enjoyed meeting the Playmates but probably would not convert to vegetarianism.
Matt Allen, a legislative assistant for Rep. Don Sherwood, R-Pa., was working on his second meat hot dog but declined to express his preference between the Hormel "Wrangler" and the Ballpark "Grillmaster." "It's tough to tell," he said. "I like them both."
When he heard about the lettuce-clad Playmates outside on Independence Avenue, Allen said he might have room left over for a veggie dog, but he wasn't ready to commit.
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