It’s been 31 years since The Smiths released an album called Meat is Murder.
The haunting title-track drags listener to the sounds of the abattoir with singer Morrissey describing the horror of the meat industry.
I only got into The Smiths once they had split up. So my first awareness of Morrissey was when he launched his solo career in the late 1980s.
It would be 1990 by the time I got around to Meat Is Murder - some five years after its initial release. But pretty much as soon I slipped the vinyl on my turntable I decided to become vegetarian.
More than a quarter of a century on I’m still meat-free and proud of it.
Despite being vegetarian I have rarely banged the drum for animal rights. I’ve been happy knowing that I don’t consume living things. But if I’m ever quizzed on why I’m vegetarian I give a very forthright explanation.
Animal rights has been on my mind more than usual recently. Largely due to blogger Matthew Crist’s excellent piece on the Grand National which appeared on liverpooletc and attracted 18,000 views and 500 retweets.
And this week I was gathering material for a university lecture about how celebrities can assist campaigns to raise awareness of their cause. I was looking for good (and bad) examples of icons of popular culture who had leant themselves to a cause they truly believed in.
The session was to look at everyone from Tiger Woods to Gary Lineker to Kirstie Allsopp.
And then I realised that the one public figure who continues to stand tall in the campaign for social justice for animals is of course my own hero - Morrissey. My vegetarianism was down to this singer, this celebrity, this hero.
The last time I saw Morrissey in concert he was still playing Meat is Murder. The song delivered against a video backdrop of animal abuse. If anything, seeing Moz continue to play this song makes me think ‘what else can I do?’ Seeing him in 2015 led to a rather brief (and failed) attempt to go vegan. I’ll try again soon…
Anyway, as my lecture research took shape, I contacted PETA - People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals - whom Morrissey has had a relationship with for more than three decades.
(PETA) is a UK-based charity dedicated to establishing and protecting the rights of all animals.
I wanted to ask them what it meant to have such long-term support from someone as high-profile as Morrissey.
I thought PETA might give me a standard comment to my questions.
Instead, Mimi Bekhechi, Director PETA UK, responded with amazing enthusiasm about the Moz effect on humans and animals.
Mimi’s words reveal, with great warmth, the massive influence Morrissey has had on the animal rights movement and how he has created ‘a new ethical norm’.
Dickie: What does Morrissey's support mean to PETA and its campaigns?
Mimi: Lots! He's outspoken and edgy, like we are. He has discussed in interviews how meat really is murder, had his whole band wear our slogan shirts, gotten his picture taken with his beloved cat balancing on his head to promote an adoption campaign, screened footage of PETA US' hard-hitting "Meet Your Meat" exposé on his tours, appeared in our postage stamp series of famous vegetarians, supported outspoken activists and even had meat banned from a music festival in Belgium.
His bold promotion of kindness has reduced the suffering of countless animals and helped society evolve to a new ethical norm, and we love him for it. Like us, Morrissey pushes the envelope and tackles big challenges. He's a fiercely honest man who speaks his mind and calls out those who abuse and exploit animals for greed or kill them for nothing more than a fleeting taste – and he suggests rather frankly that people who harm living beings can do better, that more is expected of them.
Animals who are in dire need of help have a good, solid friend in Morrissey, and we are grateful that he takes every opportunity to explain why, as PETA's motto states, "animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment or abuse in any other way".
Dickie: How important is it to have someone like Morrissey to be an advocate for your work – has his support led to more interest in PETA?
Mimi: When Morrissey talks, lots of people listen, so that's great – because reaching lots of people is our goal! His legendary efforts to help stop animal abuse, which span three decades, continue to have a big impact. He has teamed up with PETA on a number of campaigns, including one against bullfighting – a cruel "sport" which is now on the decline in Spain – and his criticism of the royal habit of hunting and wearing fur has been so provocative that it has drawn tens of thousands of people to our website. Many fans also cite him specifically as an inspiration for their decision to switch to a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, sparing countless animals lives of suffering and needless deaths.
Dickie: What does it mean to PETA to be able to sometimes go on the road with Morrissey and have a stall at his shows?
Mimi: By attending Morrissey concerts around the world, we've been able to reach huge numbers of people with information on how animals used for their flesh are feeling beings like any human being, yet they never get to enjoy their families, feel the warmth of the sun on their backs, root in the soil or do anything that makes their lives worth living – and then they meet a frightening end.
At the gigs, many people sign up to take our 30-day vegan pledge, grab free copies of our vegan starter kits and start thinking that this is all about more than songs, because the music has a message that translates into respect for animals of all kinds.
Dickie: There have been several iconic Morrissey/ PETA postcards and posters over the years. Whose idea was it for these?
Mimi: They have always been a collaboration, and PETA US Senior Vice President Dan Mathews helped create some of the early poster campaigns Morrissey appears in. Moz is a rebel with a very real cause – encouraging everyone to take a hard look at ignorant and prejudiced attitudes towards animals – and we're honoured to be able to work alongside him to spread a message of kindness.
You can get involved in the excellent work of PETA here: www.peta.org.uk