if we're going to defend PeTA's honour by listing off how many people we know who went veggie because of their videos and in-your-face billboards, i think it's fair to list off the number of people who are completely and totally turned off by their tactics and who, as a result, vow to never become vegetarian and go around thinking all vegetarians are extremist evangelicals. which, i can assure you, is a much higher number than the number of people who are converted (for more than a few weeks, anyway).
on the other hand, i am close, personal friends with many people who have, if not completely switched to a vegan diet, reduced their consumption of animal foods and support of animal products drastically thanks to their exposure to me, my cooking, and my family, who live a very NOT-in-your-face veg*n lifestyle. a very high percentage of people i know, in fact, have "converted". percentage wise, probably higher than the number of people than PeTA has converted. and all of this due to a "lead by example and don't preach" lifestyle i strive to maintain.
also, i want to point out the VERY TRUE fact that going vegetarian or even vegan is no guarantee that a person will magically become slender. i have been vegan for eight years and have remained the same fat mama i was all along (and no, i'm not a "junk food" vegan - i have children to think about here!). my husband has been vegan for the same amount of time and he has remained the same slender bean pole he's always been. for PeTA and other veg*n advocacy groups to focus on the promise of weight loss and "body perfect" is a very big mistake. a person who goes vegan to lose weight, and then doesn't, is far more likely to go back to eating meat and dairy and eggs - just as the person who tries to live off of two slimfast shakes a day and doesn't lose weight fast enough will quit that diet, too. if you want people to go vegan and stay vegan, your message has to be true, righteous, and something that they can live with for a lifetime. it can't be based on the same premise of every other fad diet out there, because 98% of the people who go on them, don't stick with it. personally, i'll be happier to see ONE person go veg*n for LIFE than a dozen people try veg*nism for six weeks until they figure out they aren't going to have a media-perfect body.
finally, by feeding into the culture's obsession with diets, thin bodies, and weight loss, PeTA is merely putting a BAND-AID on the huge, gaping, infected, pus-filled and bleeding wound that is our society. no real, lasting change will ever happen if the same tactics that keep animals down everywhere we go are turned around and used on human beings. you might help some animals here and there, sporadically, by getting slaughterhouses to own up to making changes in how they house, feed, and kill their animals, yes. but it does nothing in the long run in changing how many animals are bred, held captive, and then slaughtered for food, no matter how humanely.