PETA’s Sexiest Vegan Over 50 Contest—Why I Entered

How could I not?

A few years ago, some of my friends began asking me to enter PETA’s (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) “Sexiest Vegan Over 50” contest. I had all kinds of excuses why I didn’t. Part of it was that I was busy with my three books. Part of it was that I was busy teaching cooking classes and traveling around the country doing talks, training for marathons and doing food demonstrations.

Another factor was I wanted my books to stand on their own merit. I love breaking and bursting vegan myths. My books, Eat Vegan on $4 a DayKitchen Divided, and Paleo Vegan are all about that. I even contributed a free chapter to Eating, Running and Thinking…proceeds to charity. As a financial consultant, I learned that some corporations often did not care about helping the environment. But when you show them how much money they could save by recycling, then all of a sudden they cared and promoted saving the environment.

Keep in mind that when I went to college I was part of many feminist issues and movements. I was the first woman to anchor the evening news at the TV station I worked at. I was in college and helped establish on campus some of the first women’s self-help clinics in the US. I broke the glass ceiling becoming a videographer for a TV station that was unheard of in television news. Farmers and law-enforcement and Des Moines, Iowa, laughed when I pulled up to a news story wearing the incredibly heavy and made-for-men, huge battery belts and camera equipment.

I had one of the first unpaid maternity leaves for three months after my first daughter was born when that was unheard of. When I went to work in financial services, I was the one woman out of 10 men in the kind of job I had in my industry.

So why would I consider entering a contest that uses sex as a calling card? Because PETA is not some wealthy nonprofit or corporation that has a huge advertising budget. And because after 18 years and television newsrooms all over the US, I saw that the only time animal rights stories ever got coverage was when gorgeous PETA volunteers showed up at a fur store wearing not much coverage.

Another reason is because when I am at running races wearing my bright yellow vegan shirt, people will come up to me as I am holding one of the 73 5K or longer age group awards that I have received since 2006 and say, “You can’t run, race or compete in the Olympics on a vegan diet.” “Ever hear of Carl Lewis, the Olympian?” I’ll respond.

I enjoy these opportunities to engage and if I don’t sell a book by the end of our conversation I think I must have missed making an important point. Several local race organizers welcome me and ask that I have a table like this as the antithesis to the well funded Dairy Council. The Dairy Council has a well publicized campaign called, “Promoting Chocolate Milk as the Ideal Recovery Drink for Children.” At too many races, finishers often receive a free carton of chocolate milk as they cross the finish line. I can’t imagine drinking anything more nauseating after running 3 or more miles.

As I always say, when you understand that there is no money in broccoli, no corporation that makes it, no association, no lobbyists behind it, then you have to be your own investigative reporter like I was, to figure out the truth about food. Where are the broccoli ads?

So if PETA or any other organization wants my help to spread the message that vegans aren’t weak, especially after 50, then I’m happy to do what I can. I am currently 7th in the US in the women’s 60-64 age group 1500 meters, 10th in the 400 meters, 16th in the 200 meters and 19th in the 100 meters. To qualify for nationals, I had to place at the county and then the state competitions. One of the reasons I did so well in the 1500 meters was because it was on day 3 of the National Senior Games. By day three after all of us had competed in most of the other races, at the check-in table I heard my meat-eating colleagues “scratching,” or dropping out. I heard them saying they were too sore or too tired to compete. I was a little sore, but not sore enough to drop out.

I credit my quick recovery, as many vegan athletes do, to the power of plants. I believe that any aerobic exercise combined with a vegan diet is magical. The publisher of the “Running Journal,” for which I write a monthly column, says it is very unusual for anyone with my sprint times, which are seconds off NCAA college girls’ times, to have ever finished a marathon. I’ve done that twice including one in January of this year. To go from placing nationally sprinting, to doing a marathon within 6 months is also pretty rare. I have done 6 half marathons. My first marathon was in 2010. Go plants!

Here’s the real reason I do what I do. My mom, aunt and both sisters had breast cancer. And way more. I was the youngest in my family and had a lifetime to see what worked or didn’t. I have three daughters. My work is a legacy for them. My parents were so sick and diseased by the time I had children, my parents couldn’t lift them, let alone babysit. Entire generations are losing each other and don’t even know it. No animal, human or otherwise should suffer in our world. Not in this time. Not in so many preventable ways. Our children must grow up in a healthier world. As the September issue of National Geographic Magazine’s cover story, “The Real Paleo Diet” (which supported much of the work and research in my book, Paleo Vegan), the world cannot sustain a diet based on meat and dairy. The photo on the left, my age group awards as of 2011. On the right, the most current awards for running. (And the 2 Emmys.) These days I’m getting asked to prove things, so here you go.

I want to show my children and their generation that genes don’t determine destiny.

I hope you’ll vote for me in the contest. But no matter who wins, it’s the animals, our health and our planet that win, given that eating vegan is the best thing we can do to reduce our carbon footprint. If this contest helps a few more people think about and even go vegan, then it is well worth it, win or lose. Thanks for listening!