Detroit residents struggling to keep up with their water bills have a unique offer on the (dinner) table from the world's largest animal rights organization: Eat vegan for one month, and that overdue bill will get paid.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is accepting overdue bills until Friday, and they will be paying a bill for 10 families who pledge to go vegan for 30 days, said Ashley Byrne, PETA campaign specialist. The group, which is accepting applications by mail, has only received five submissions so far, Byrne said.
Detroit, which is trying to crawl out from the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, has been shutting off water to thousands of residents for nonpayment, drawing protests and even condemnation from the United Nations.
"A PETA donor from Detroit approached us with the idea, and we said we'd be delighted in something that would help animals and people with overdue water bills at the same time," Byrne said. "PETA sees it as a win-win."
But not everyone agrees. The organization has been slammed on social media for its "gross" and "awful" offer, with one Twitter user declaring, "Water is a human right. Period. Holding it out like a prize proves PETA doesn't value human life."
In response, PETA said the Detroit resident donating money for the program sees it "as an opportunity to help people in her community as well as animals," and that the applicants agree that everyone benefits, too.
The organization has already chosen its first recipient of the deal: Detroit resident Leslie Turner, a 46-year-old social worker, whose bill was more than $145. Turner started her vegan diet on Wednesday, and told NBC News it was going well so far.
"I'm doing absolutely wonderful," she said.
Turner said she has tried cutting out meat in the past before for religious reasons, but said she was never able to stay with it. The possibility that veganism may help her get off her blood pressure medication was a motivating factor for her to stick with it for a month, she said.
"I'm pretty confident," she said, adding that PETA sent her a starter kit with vegan snacks and recipes.
But Turner, whose water has not been turned off despite her struggles to pay her bills, did note one drawback to the vegan lifestyle:
"Eating a vegan diet is more costly," she said.
On its website, PETA says people who go vegan will have lower health care costs, and therefore "will be getting an immediate financial boost."
First published July 30 2014, 12:50 PM