When Meggan Anderson was growing up among pig farmers in North Carolina, every special occasion was an opportunity to kill a pig and roast it whole over a trailer grill hitched behind a truck, be it a wedding or a high school graduation.
As a little girl, Anderson used to see slaughter trucks stuffed with hogs every day on the way to school. In the winter their ears would turn black and purple from frostbite.
Now she travels the world to lie nearly naked on a plate stuffed with giant foam vegetables. Tuesday afternoon, that image of pigs with frozen ears is what she meditated on as she huddled, shivering, at the corner of 8th and Nicollet in nude panties with four instant heat packs tucked in her side.
The point of the exercise, as with all PETA campaigns, was glaringly obvious and shamelessly provocative: Would you kill and eat Meggan Anderson for Christmas dinner? She is an animal, after all.
Anderson, 31, went vegan nearly a decade ago after watching a six-minute YouTube video called "Glass Walls," narrated by Paul McCartney. She joined PETA to encourage others to do the same. Coming from a farm town, she says the plight of slaughterhouse laborers who work in underpaid, backbreaking conditions affected her just as much as the abuse of the pigs.
"I'd heard stories from them, but I put two and two together and realized we were killing our bodies and our land and the animals too," Anderson says. "There's a misconception that vegans are anti-farmer, anti-agriculture, and we're not. They suffer just as much for their job, and they're not also getting treated the best either."
The health benefits have kept her off meat and cheese — which she used to love — for 12 years. Anderson now boasts regular periods without PMS, which makes her an all around nicer person. She doesn't fluctuate in weight, and never gets acne.
Family members are supportive of what she does for PETA, Anderson says, but they were never too interested in vegetables until her father suffered a heart attack over the summer. This Thanksgiving, her sister prepared a meatless dinner.
Minneapolis in mid-December is cold, but it's worth being nude for an hour if she can get people to stop and think, Anderson says.
"You could have 50 people in coats right now with signs and it's not going to get the same attention, ironically, of one person doing what I'm doing," she says. "It's kind of the world we live in. But when you gear the conversation back toward the shock of animal cruelty rather than nudity, then the nudity becomes silly. As people have opened their minds to nudity, they've also opened their minds to veganism."