Harriet Walker: Spare me Pamela's prime cuts

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The Independent Online

In the heaving meat market of provocative advertising, PETA's new offering stands out like a bloody steak. It's a string-bikini-ed Pamela Anderson segmented into all the choice cuts you'd normally see emblazoned on a diagram of a cow at your local butcher.

It's designed to make us think twice about devouring helpless animals, but how many men will stop salivating over a juicy bit of thigh when faced with the Anderson tenderloin is anybody's guess.

That's right, Pammie has become the literal slab of meat that she has metaphorically and pneumatically embodied for the past 20 years. Do we praise her for her ethical devotion to a good cause? Or do we wince at the casually carnivorous attitudes behind it?

Animal charity PETA has a long tradition of eye-catching adverts – from the "I'd rather go naked than wear fur" series that featured supermodels with no clothes on, to a stunt which saw bloodied women (again, no clothes) wrapped in clingfilm and served up on polystyrene trays. There's a time and a place for shock tactics, but they need to be carefully conceived and they need to avoid any unfortunate attendant overtones – which Pammie's new ad doesn't. It's seedy, gratuitous and objectifying, without being clever or relevant enough for that not to matter.

In France, almost every advert features a naked or nearly naked woman. You can't buy a septic tank without confronting some pendulous breasts or a set of well-honed abs. But in Britain we're more puritanical – remember the outrage over an orgasmic-looking Sophie Dahl reclining in the nude to advertise YSL's iconic fragrance Opium. As a self-righteous teenager, I was gleeful that the giant poster in Sheffield's city centre was instantly defaced with a lurid smattering of "Porn hates women".

So why should Pamela be any different? Because she's selling a virtuous lifestyle rather than some luxury goods? She's a tireless campaigner for vegetarianism and her one great talent is taking off her clothes – surely it's a match made in commercial heaven. But on the journey from boardroom to billboard, did no one realise that this advert is flawed for two reasons? First, there isn't a sheep, cow or pig in the world as fit as Pamela, so it's not a fair comparison; and second, it appeals to exactly the same primal, carnal desires that mean we're prepared to rip apart baby animals and dip them in ketchup.

Yes, it's distasteful to think of women in the same category as lambs to the slaughter, but that's because we'd like to think we've come beyond that, that women have something to offer beyond their bodies. Lambs, well, it's a different story isn't it? They're never going to run a business or win a Nobel prize.

I'm being facetious, of course – chances are that our obsession with eating meat will come to be seen as the great barbaric failure of our age. Like the Romans, future generations will marvel over our central heating and TV gameshows, but their insides will turn cold at our casual barbarism. Whole shops devoted to the selling of dead chickens with jaunty drawn-on smiles! (Nando's). A sinister clown persuading children to eat cadavers by giving away toys! (McDonald's). Another sinister clown creating bespoke sauces in which to marinade the recently murdered! (Loyd Grossman). And Jamie Oliver is urging us to unleash our inner caveman with his meaty new venture.

But let's face it, there's nothing sexy about vegetarianism. As the thousands of beardy, socks-and-sandals wearing diehards will attest, this advert is the raciest thing to have happened to the movement since Linda McCartney... well, since Linda McCartney. I'm not against going veggie, but it would take a more concerted argument than a Baywatch star with her kit off (hardly a rare occurrence) for me to forfeit a bacon sandwich. In fact, I'd rather pose in a bikini myself than never give up meat. But that would be gratuitous. And it might put you off your burger.

h.walker@independent.co.uk; twitter.com/harrywalker1